Poet, playwright, and community activist Ayodele Nzinga was selected recently as Oakland’s inaugural poet laureate, city officials announced.
Nzinga is the founding producer director of the West Oakland theater company Lower Bottom Playaz, established in 1999. She is also the founding director of Black Arts Movement Business District Community Development Corporation, which produces BAMBD FEST, an international arts and cultural festival celebrating the arts in the Black community.
“Her decades-long commitment to Oakland’s art scene will feed the richness of her storytelling as she nurtures creativity in others,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement.
Nzinga is the author of at least two books of poetry: “SorrowLand Oracle,” a collection of spells, incantations, prayers, and “The Horse Eaters,” which is described as an origin tale, a reclamation of memory and a movement toward wholeness in thought.
Nzinga said she is “overjoyed” with her selection as Oakland’s first poet laureate.
“I look forward to representing ‘The Town’ and the honor of bringing poetry to the people!” she said in a statement.
As poet laureate, Nzinga will make an inaugural address, partner with the city’s youth poet laureate Myra Estrada on a reading series, deliver four readings in Oakland, and write a poem that commemorates the city.
“Whether in the visual performing arts, music or literature, the talents of the Town’s artists are world-renowned and deserve recognition and financial support,” J. K. Fowler, cultural affairs commissioner and chair of the poet laureate selection team, said in a statement.
City officials closed nominations on May 19 for Oakland’s inaugural poet laureate and five members of the city’s literary community selected Nzinga from other nominees based on five criteria.
That included their poetic work, and among other things their understanding of civic stories around belonging, culture, and equity.
Nzinga will serve a two-year term until May 2023. Her selection comes with a $5,000 honorarium.
The date for the inaugural address by Nzinga has not been set.