You’d be hard-pressed to find someone as deeply connected to Orlando as the city’s newly appointed Poet Laureate, UCF alumna Susan Lilley ’75 ’80MA.
Lilley, who was named to the “official storyteller” gig on Oct. 23, has been rooted in the community since she was still in the womb.
Her parents were both born in Orlando. She grew up in the area and decided to attend the hometown university, UCF, where she pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English.
She raised her three children here. She worked at UCF for 12 years and was part of a group called “Simply Shakespeare,” the brainchild of her former professor Stuart Omans, who went on to found the festival that became the origins of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.
She has served as an instructor in Rollins College’s English department since 2000 and teaches literature and creative writing at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park.
Over the years, she has been recognized as the winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award (2009) and published two books, “Night Windows” and “Satellite Beach.”
When it was announced that a contest would be held to determine the city’s first Poet Laureate, Lilley’s brother texted her immediately. At his and her friends’ urging, she decided to apply along with 49 other poets from Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia, Lake and Brevard counties.
“I was happy to throw my hat in, mainly out of pride and delight that the city is putting something real in place for creative writing,” Lilley said. “I have been astonished and uplifted by the growth in the literary world here over the last few years.”
Three finalists, Lilley among them, were announced in September. She said she was stunned to learn she had made the cut and was floored when she claimed the job after an interview with City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
“What gratifying validation for an artist–that someone notices the work you’ve been scribbling away at for years. It was really enough (to be a finalist),” she said. “But when the City called to tell me I had been selected by Mayor Dyer, I was truly dumbfounded. But very excited.”
Dyer appointed her to a one-year term, and he can approve up to two additional one-year renewals before a new laureate is chosen.
Among her duties, she will perform at city events and give presentations to local students, and it’s her interactions with the community that she’s most looking forward to.
“In this new role I hope to work with different groups of people, from young people to the elders, who need to find their voices and have their stories told. I intend to promote and amplify the great writing scene we have here as I learn more about it. I want to help celebrate it all–from formal poets and academic poets to spoken-word and open mic and slam poets,” she said.
“As I enlarge my world of the area’s creative writers, I want to share it with the community and spread the word.”