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Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County

City of Asylum is recognizing poets who have a growing history of published work and vision for civic engagement through poetry by naming an Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County and three Finalists. The Emerging Poet honorees will participate in All Pittsburghers are Poets free poetry programming. The finalists serve as editors for the All Pittsburghers are Poets: Poem of the Week series at Sampsonia Way Magazine. The Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County receives a prize of $1,000 and will develop a poetry project with the support of City of Asylum during their term of service.

Want to watch the Emerging Poet honorees perform? Appearances listed below:


Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County, 2020-21
Paloma Sierra

Paloma Sierra is a Puerto Rican poet, playwright, and translator based in Pittsburgh. A writer with poetic and musical roots, Paloma has had her work developed by Poetic Theater ProductionsNuyorican Poets Cafe, and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama. Her verse dramas, poetry, and translations are published in Bridge: The Bluffton University JournalPersephone’s Daughters, and Sampsonia Way. Paloma holds a BHA in Creative Writing and Drama from Carnegie Mellon and is currently pursuing an MFA in Dramatic Writing from the same institution.

Read Paloma’s poem “BuT yOuR eNgLiSh Is So GoOd!


Emerging Poet Laureate Finalist of Allegheny County, 2020-21
Fred Shaw

Fred Shaw is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, and Carlow University, where he received his MFA.  He teaches writing at Point Park University and Carlow University. His first collection. Scraping Away, was recently published by CavanKerry Press. A book reviewer and Poetry Editor for Pittsburgh Quarterly, his poem, “Argot,” is featured in the 2018 full-length documentary, Eating & Working & Eating & Working.  The film focuses on the lives of local service-industry workers. His poem “Scraping Away” was selected for the PA Public Poetry Project in 2017. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and rescued hound dog.

Read Fred’s poem “Curse.”


Emerging Poet Laureate Finalist of Allegheny County, 2020-21
R/B Mertz

R/B Mertz (she/they) is a non-binary butch caterpillar very happy to be emerging in Pittsburgh. Mertz recently finished a memoir called Burning Butch, represented by Danielle Bukowski at Sterling Lord Literistic. Their narrative essay, “How Whiteness Kills God & Sprinkles Crack on the Body,” was published on the blog Mistress Syndrome and their visual art was exhibited at Boxheart Gallery’s 2017 International juried exhibition. Mertz teaches writing at Duquesne University and the Community College of Allegheny County and can’t stop won’t stop singing showtunes.

Read R/B’s poem “POEM AGAINST THE POLICE.”


Emerging Poet Laureate Finalist of Allegheny County, 2020-21
grace (ge) gilbert

grace (ge) gilbert is a poet and lyric essayist from Upstate New York. Her work can/will be found in the Adroit Journal, Ninth Letter, the minnesota review, the Penn Review, plain china, Anomaly Literary Journal, Pretty Owl Poetry, Maudlin House, Twyckenham Notes, Prometheus Dreaming, Vox Viola, storm of blue press, Sweet Literary Magazine, dream noir, & the Gandy Dancer among others. In her free time, she is likely listening to Elton John, eating takeout, and trying to keep her plants alive. grace is an MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh.

Read grace’s poem “Meditations from my notes app or Meditations for Luca, who hadn’t even learned to roll over yet.”


Stephen Motika served as the Judge for Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County. Stephen is the Director and Publisher of Nightboat Books, whose mission is to develop audiences for writers whose work resists convention and transcends boundaries, by publishing books rich with poignancy, intelligence and risk.


City of Asylum is grateful for support from the following partners:


This project received a RADical ImPAct Grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).
Sampsonia Way Magazine is a publication of City of Asylum in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.

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