Tongo Eisen-Martin, a Bernal Heights resident, named San Francisco's eighth poet laureate. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Tongo Eisen-Martin becomes San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate

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.”

Tongo Eisen-Martin flips through records in 2018 at Bird Beckett Books and Records. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Tongo Eisen-Martin flips through records in 2018 at Bird Beckett Books and Records. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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.

Bay Area Newssan francisco news

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

The Port of San Francisco, which controls much of the The City’s waterfront, faces potential layoffs due to a financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)
In a financial ‘crisis,’ SF Port officials lobby for stimulus funding

Looking to right their financial ship, Port of San Francisco officials are… Continue reading

Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday said a rebranding and reoganization of the former Gang Task Force amounts to “more than just the name change.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Faced with surge in shootings, Chief Scott reenvisions SFPD’s Gang Task Force

New Community Violence Reduction Team adds officers with community-policing experience

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and members of the orchestra were thrilled to be back inside Davies Symphony Hall on May 6 in a program for first responders featuring string works by Jean Sibelius, George Walker, Carl Nielsen, Caroline Shaw and Edward Grieg. (Courtesy Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Symphony)
SF Symphony makes joyful return to Davies Hall

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts program for first responders and community leaders

Stores including Walgreens and Safeway are required to pay their employees additional hazard pay under a city ordinance that is currently set to expire later this month. (Shutterstock)
Grocery workers could gain additional weeks of $5 per hour hazard pay

San Francisco will vote next week on whether to extend a law… Continue reading

The fatal shooting of San Francisco resident Roger Allen by Daly City police on April 7 prompted protests in both cities. (Jordi Molina/ Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Daly City approves body-worn and vehicle cameras for police after fatal shooting

Daly City officials on Wednesday approved body and vehicle cameras for police… Continue reading

Most Read