Urbana's Poet Laureate Program



Congratulations to the 2021 Poet Laureate

Ashanti Files


Ashanti Files was born in Chicago, Illinois, and moved to Urbana in 2004, where she lives with her husband, Ryan, and three daughters, Camille, Kayla, and Cadence. Files works as a registered nurse at Rosecrance in Champaign, where she works in mental health and addiction services. She has published her poetry and fiction writing in journals including, most recently, the Northern New England Review and their FRONT/LINES: Poetry of Nursing and Pandemic Perspectives. In 2019, she published her own collection of poetry, Woven: Perspectives of a Black Woman. She is the Founder of Writers of Oya, a writer’s program for middle school girls of color in Urbana School District #116 exploring intersections of poetry, spoken word, mental health, social issues, and resilience. Through her mentorship, Writers of Oya participants have performed on, Poets in the Park, Pygmalion Poetry Marathon, A March for Nonviolence, and most recently, Station Theater’s #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence. The girls have also appeared in Luminous magazine, Art Now! mini-documentary series, Talks with Tari on 104.5 Radio Free Urbana, and the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center’s Sounds Like Community. Participants in Writers of Oya are publishing their first collection of poetry, Unmasked (forthcoming 2021).

“The jury was drawn to Ashanti Files’ dynamic proposal and her documented history of developing writing programs with youth and marginalized groups in the community,” said Arts and Culture Coordinator, Rachel Storm, “The fact that her efforts have grown during this global pandemic in which she is also working as a registered nurse makes her all the more remarkable.”

Her one-year term begins January 13th, 2020. Files was selected through a competitive application and interview process by a panel of literary experts. The poet laureate receives a $2,000 honorarium for the one-year term, funded by the City of Urbana’s Arts and Culture Program. The City invites the public to a virtual reception to celebrate Urbana Poet Laureate, Ashanti Files on January 21st, 2021 at 5pm. To register to attend, complete your RSVP here:

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About the Poet Laureate Program


In April of 2019, the City of Urbana’s Mayor’s Office and the Urbana Arts & Culture Program were proud to announce the inaugural Poet Laureate Program for the City of Urbana.  Now in its second cycle, the City's Poet Laureate Program celebrates poetry by recognizing a resident poet who honors and serves our diverse community and elevates the importance of the creative writing art form through sharing their work with Urbana residents. "The Poet Laureate acts as an advocate for poetry, language, and the arts," said Rachel Lauren Storm, Arts & Culture Coordinator, "The selected poet creates a unique artistic legacy by conducting outreach activities, special programs, and presentations of individual works with support from our arts program." (See what inaugural Poet Laureate Will Reger achieved during his tenure here.) This cycle, Urbana Arts and Culture Program welcomes nomiations and applications. Submitted nominations initiate an invitation to submit a full application for nominees. 


How to Apply 

  • Applications are currently closed, they will open again October 2021.


About the Youth Poet Laureate Program

The inaugural Youth Poet Laureate Program celebrates Urbana's youth by sponsoring an Urbana teen poet (ages 13 - 18) who serves as a youth ambassador for poetry and utilizes poetry as a means for civic leadership, artistic excellence, and social engagement.

Urbana's Youth Poet Laureate Program joins the National Youth Poet Laureate Program (YPL) network through Urban Word with programs in more than 50 cities, states and counties across the United States, collaborating with leading national literary organizations including the Library of Congress, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Foundation, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts. "The Youth Poet Laureate Program is one of the nation's most important civic movements of this genearation. The YPLs are a collective of not only brilliant young writers but also deeply committed, young civic leaders working to improve their communities," said Dr. Camea Davis, National Youth Poet Laureate Director. Urbana's Youth Poet Laureate will be eligible to apply for the 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate Competition.

How to Apply

  • Click here to apply for Urbana's Youth Poet Laureate. You do not need to be nominated to apply. Applications are OPEN! *updated 12/22/2020


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- Last Modified -January 27, 2021 - 5:16pm
- Author - RachelS