Poet Laureate Program

Pittsburgh has long been a home for poetry, and with our project All Pittsburghers are Poets, City of Asylum continues this tradition by establishing the first Poet Laureate Program for Allegheny County with support from RAD (Allegheny Regional Asset District).

Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County 2021-2022
Danielle Obisie-Orlu

Danielle Obisie-Orlu reads her piece “Poem for the Expat.”

Danielle Obisie-Orlu is Nigerian-American student, actress and poet who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a trained public speaker, receiving accolades in speech, drama, and debate. She attends the University of Pittsburgh and is double majoring in International & Area Studies and Political Science, with minors in Sociology and French. She is devoted to fostering environments of intersectional community, belonging, and empowerment. She is passionate about migration, belonging, and international human rights law; partners with ARSYE to empower migrant youth and refugee voices; and is a student leader on her campus.

City of Asylum Poet Laureate of Allegheny County, 2020-22
Celeste Gainey

Celeste Gainey is the author of the poetry collection, the GAFFER, (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press), cited by O, The Oprah Magazine as one of “8 New Books of Poetry to Savor.” Her chapbook, In the land of speculation & seismography (Seven Kitchens Press), was runner-up for the prestigious Robin Becker Prize. She has been a Hedgebrook Writer in Residence as well as a presenting poet at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. Graduating with a BFA in Film & Television from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, as well as earning an MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Carlow University, Gainey was the first woman to be admitted to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees as a gaffer, and has spent many years working with light in film and architecture. 

Read Celeste’s poem “in the early days of polyester.”

Poet Laureate Program Alumni

In 2020 at the launch of All Pittsburghers are Poets, City of Asylum awarded an experienced poet in Allegheny County with a two year Poet Laureateship. Additionally, one year service terms were awarded to a Youth Poet Laureate, American Sign Language Poet Laureate, and an Emerging Poet Laureate.

On behalf of the RAD board and staff, sincere congratulations to Celeste Gainey, Vincent Folkes, Maryjean (Mj) Shahen, and Paloma Sierra as City of Asylum’s inaugural Poet Laureates. We are proud to support this program with a RADical ImPAct grant, which celebrates RAD’s 25-year history and shines light on the people and projects that will inspire our region for the next 25 years. We are delighted to have our own Poet Laureates right here in Allegheny County to engage our imaginations and our empathy, and to inspire us with their words. Now more than ever, we value the vital connection to community that the arts provide. Thank you for your work and we look forward to seeing and hearing more throughout the year.

-RAD Board Chair Dusty Elias Kirk

Poem of the Week

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City of Asylum believes that All Pittsburghers are Poets. Beginning in May 2020 and running through April 2021, poems by residents of Allegheny County of all ages and levels of experience were published weekly at Sampsonia Way Magazine. Read all 50 poems here.

All Pittsburghers are Poets in the Press

City of Asylum thanks the following partners for their support:

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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