The first Poet Laureate was announced on Wednesday at Dallas City Hall. During the ceremony, Mayor Eric Johnson named Joaquín Zihuatanejo as Dallas’ City Poet Laureate. Zihuatanejo delivered a speech and read one of his poems to city officials and other artists.
Part of Zihuatanejo’s role will involve acting as an ambassador for Dallas for literary art forms for the next two years. According to a statement from the Dallas Public Library, Zihuatanejo will be a liaison, advocate, and leader who will inspire the diverse residents of Dallas County to read, write, perform, and appreciate the written and spoken word. He will have artist-in-residence hours held at the Central Library.
As a Dallas native, Zihuatanejo has found success as a poet. He won the World Cup of Poetry Slam Championship and Individual World Poetry Slam Championship in 2009. In 2012, he founded the non-profit Dallas Youth Poets, which provides a platform for student poets ages 14-19 in the greater Dallas area to gather, be heard, and be respected, according to their website.
Zihuatanejo told WFAA that he started writing poetry at seven years old. As the newly named Poet Laureate, he wants to inspire youths to write poetry.
“One of the most intimidating things is a computer screen or a blank page. But once you type that first image, […] one line, then the poem will begin happening,” he said to WFAA.
Mayor Johnson also named Madison Rojas as the Youth Poet Laureate. She will have a full year with the title, during which she will help advocate for poetry to youths alongside the Dallas Poet Laureate. Rojas is a junior and a member of the student council at Greenhill School. She told WFAA that poetry will help her in whatever career she works down the line. Her aspirations include becoming a civil rights attorney.
Mayor Johnson declared April to be Poetry Month during the Poet Laureate ceremony. Donations from private organizations fund The Dallas Poet Laureate program, which started in June 2021.