For Shawn Welcome ’17, serving as Orlando’s second Poet Laureate is the culmination of years of supporting poetic expression and storytelling in the city. From studying at UCF to working with a variety of area organizations, including the Orlando Boys & Girls Club and Hope CommUnity Center, he has deep roots in the Orlando community.
“We are excited for Shawn Welcome to use poetry and the literary arts to tell our community’s stories,” says Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.“There is no doubt that Orlando is a better place to live and work because of our vibrant arts and cultural scene. Our Poet Laureate will help continue to add to our city’s unique sense of place.”
Dyer selected Welcome for the honor Oct. 4 and during an Oct. 11 Orlando City Council meeting there will be a vote to approve the new designation. In his role as Orlando’s Poet Laureate, Welcome will present original poems at city events and expand the “Worlds and Wonders” Poetry Contest initiated by Orlando’s first Poet Laureate, UCF alumna Susan Lilley ’75 ’80MA. Lilley was appointed in 2017 and served in the role for three years. UCF Associate Professor of English Terry Thaxton ’93 ’95MA was also a finalist for the inaugural role.
“What I’m most excited about as Poet Laureate is the opportunity to start something that encourages literary arts, poetry, performance and all of the things that make poetry great.” — Shawn Welcome ’17
“What I’m most excited about as Poet Laureate is the opportunity to start something that encourages literary arts, poetry, performance and all of the things that make poetry great,” says Welcome. “To start something that would last beyond my term.”
Welcome — who earned his bachelor’s in English and is currently pursuing a master’s in applied sociology at UCF — first cultivated his passion for poetry during his time at Valencia College in the school’s African American Cultural Society. In 2006, he founded Diverse Word, Orlando’s longest running weekly open mic night, where attendees can enjoy poetry, singing, comedy and rap from local artists in the city for free. Each month, local businesses support poetry slams with monetary prizes for the winners. In the same year, he created a poetry and life skills program for youth offenders at the 33rd Street Jail.
“I really want to be an inspiration for anybody looking to write more, express themselves more,” says Welcome in a message from the City of Orlando. “There’s a home for everybody if you’re interested in writing, performing, connecting with other poets and writers.”
All of this year’s finalists for Orlando’s Poet Laureate were tied to UCF. The other two poets in consideration for the role were Chrissy Kolaya, assistant professor of English, and Martha Brenckle, professor of writing and rhetoric. Kolaya is a poet and fiction writer, author of the novel Charmed Particles and two collections of poetry: Any Anxious Body and Other Possible Lives. Brenckle is a poetry and fiction writer, having won the Central Florida United Arts Award for Poetry in 2000. Her novel, Street Angel, was published in 2006, and her poetry collection, Hard Letters and Folded Wings, in 2019.
“As a person who’s relatively new to Orlando and UCF, it was an honor and a big surprise to be one of the finalists,” says Kolaya. “I’m so excited to see Shawn take on this role — his longtime involvement in the community and his work in both print and spoken-word poetry make him such a great choice for our city! I’m proud to be part of a community with such a deep commitment to the arts.”
“I felt honored to be among the finalists when there is such a large pool of talent in the city,” Brenckle says. “I have always believed that poetry is for everyone; it should leave the page and fill the air. I am excited to have a performance poet become our Poet Laureate. If you haven’t watched his YouTube videos, you should. Shawn will add the kind of energy to the position that will inspire others to perform and write.”