UTSA's Carmen Tafolla named San Antonio's inaugural poet laureate

Carmen Tafolla

Carmen Tafolla

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(April 4, 2012) -- To promote a love of literacy, Carmen Tafolla, UTSA Writer-in-Residence for Children's, Youth and Transformative Literature in the College of Education and Human Development, has been selected by San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to serve as the inaugural poet laureate of the Alamo City. Esteemed for authoring books, she is known in literary circles as one of the godmothers of Chicana literature. Additionally, her poems and articles are credited with authentically portraying Hispanic life and culture.

Twice honored by the U.S. Library of Congress, Tafolla is a San Antonio native who was born on the city's West Side in 1951. Given a four-year scholarship to a private high school, she reflected on the differences between her West San Antonio home and her high school environment, and she realized that neither her community nor her neighbors were positively portrayed in literature.

"I realized that I needed to do something to help connect people from different communities and different cultures," she recalls. "So I began writing about what I knew -- the rich Mexican American culture around me, the sights, smells, sounds and language of San Antonio, the centuries of unsung heroes in its people."

Tafolla's work was well received by the literary community. In the 1970s, she began publishing her work in local Chicano magazines, and in 1976 she published "Get Your Tortillas Together," a collaborative project with poets Reyes Cardenas and Cecilio García-Camarillo. Eventually, she became the head writer for "Sonrisas," a bilingual children's television program unique at the time.

In 1982, Tafolla earned her doctoral degree in bilingual education from the University of Texas at Austin. One year later, she published "Curandera," a collection of poems regarded by her peers for its presentation of literary code switching. The book continues to be used today in high school and college classrooms.

Tafolla's work appears in more than 300 anthologies, textbooks and books targeting every age group from kindergarten through college.

"Everybody has a story, an authentic narrative, that is intrinsic to their unique life experiences," said Tafolla. "As poet laureate, I will encourage people to share their stories, to record their stories and to listen to the stories of others. That is how we develop authentic connections with one another as well as our own capacities to impact the world."

"I can think of no one more worthy of this honor than Carmen Tafolla," Castro said in a statement. "She's not only an accomplished poet and educator, she is a homegrown talent who embodies the power and poignancy of art in our community. I am pleased to call her San Antonio's first poet laureate."

"Truly, she reaches all segments of the population from the academic literary experts to the kindergarteners," said state Senator Leticia Van de Putte. "I congratulate San Antonio for having a responsible government that supports the arts because it promotes our great city as a great place to live and raise families."

Tafolla was selected poet laureate from among 21 nominations. She will serve in the role for two years.