Bernal Heights resident Tongo Eisen-Martin has become San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.
Mayor London Breed and City Librarian Michael Lambert announced the selection Friday. He will succeed poet Kim Shuck in the role.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tongo when he was teaching artist at the African American Arts and Culture complex, and I’ve seen his remarkable ability to spur creativity in youth and inspire them to find their own voice,” Breed said. “His work on racial justice and equity, along with his commitment to promoting social and cultural change, comes at such a critical time for our city and our country.”
Eisen-Martin, who was born and raised in San Francisco, was nominated for the position by a nine-member Selection Committee, which includes past poets laureate, city officials and members of the Bay Area literary community.
He is the founder of the Black Freighter Press. His works include Heaven Is All Goodbyes, from City Lights Books’ Pocket Poet Series. It received a 2018 American Book Award and the 2018 California Book Award for Poetry.
“I and my poetry are an absolute product of every nook and cranny of San Francisco,” Eisen-Martin said. “It is the city’s cultural institutions, chartered in ink, demonstration, spirit, and bloodline, that taught me how to relate to the world.”
Eisen-Martin said he wants to expose more people to poetry.
“As deep into the various communities of the city as our poets have already brought the craft, I want to push even further into places where poetry has not yet permeated,” Eisen-Martin said. “Give poetry even more of a mass personality; as mass participation has always been the staple of what could be described as San Francisco futurism.”
There are several responsibilities that come with being poet laureate. Eisen-Martin will will deliver an inaugural address at the San Francisco Public Library, participate in community-based poetry programs honoring diversity, and lead poetry events in collaboration with the Library, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and community groups like Youth Speaks and Litquake.
The San Francisco Examiner profiled Eisen-Martin in 2018.
The City began selecting a poet laureate in 1998 with the honor first going to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Subsequent poet laureates include Shuck, Diane Di Prima, Janice Mirikitani, devorah major, Jack Hirschman and Alejandro Murguía.