City of Asylum is recognizing an individual who has greatly contributed to the Deaf community and is engaged in the art of ASL poetry by naming an American Sign Language Poet Laureate of Allegheny County. The honoree receives a prize of $1,000, will participate in All Pittsburghers are Poets poetry programming, and will develop an ASL poetry project with the support of City of Asylum during their term of service.
Events featuring the ASL Poet Laureate
- Ongoing in 2021 – Mj performs ASL interpretation for Mattress Factory Museum exhibit A New Tomorrow That Starts Today by artist Meir Tati
- April 23, 2021 – Winchester Thurston Lower School visiting artist presentation about ASL Poetry
- February 16, 2021 – Watch Mj’s ASL poetry performance for the RAD Board
- December 10, 2020 – Carlow MFA Alumni Reading Series featuring Mj Shahen. Watch Mj’s ASL invitation video for this event!
American Sign Language Poet Laureate of Allegheny County, 2020-21
Maryjean (Mj) Shahen
Maryjean (Mj) Shahen worked for years as a counselor and trainer for deafblind and deaf individuals with multiple intellectual disabilities. In this work, she utilized various technologies and visual cues for instruction and visual/tactual communication. Through the Peace Corps Program, Mj lived in Kenya and worked as a Special Education teacher for deaf children with disabilities. Mj has a Bachelor of Science from Gallaudet University in Recreation/Leisure Counseling and a Master of Science from Hofstra University in Education with a specialty in Rehabilitation Counseling. Mj was previously a Communication Assessor for Helen Keller National Center for the Deafblind and Temple University. She has worked as an ASL Instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. Mj is presently a Communication Support Specialist/Trainer for C.E.M. Communication Services, LLC and is an ASL Coordinator and Adjunct Instructor at the Community College of Allegheny County.
View Mj’s ASL poem “Deaf Child of Hearing Parents.”
ASL Poet Laureate in the Press
- Sampsonia Way Magazine, “Why We Write: Inside the Creative Process with the Poet Laureates for Allegheny County“
- Pittsburgh Current, “City Of Asylum Names Four Poets Laureate For Allegheny County“
Want to know more about ASL Poetry?
Read and watch this interview of poet and storyteller Douglas Ridloff at Sampsonia Way Magazine.
Greg Mendenhall served as the Judge for American Sign Language Poet of Allegheny County. He is the High School Principal at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.
City of Asylum thanks Pittsburgh-based writer Cristina Hartmann for serving as an advisor for this award.