The Tacoma arts scene was alive and well on Friday, May 1 at B Sharp Coffeehouse. Local poets and musicians took the stage, performing in a free public show. Among them was Cathy Nguyen, a local activist poet, for whom the event marked the beginning of her term as Tacoma’s poet laureate. Nguyen joined former poet laureates, as well as other local artists at the performance to promote the arts in the Tacoma community.
Tacoma’s Poet Laureate program is more than a way of honoring great artists––it promotes community betterment and involvement through the arts. Founded in 2008 by Urban Grace Church, the program selects one poet to represent the Tacoma literary community for a two year period. Laureates contribute to the community in significant ways, organizing readings, workshops and more for local youth, artists and community members. Now, the program is a part of the City of Tacoma Arts Program, with Nguyen serving as its sixth laureate.
Nguyen fits the program’s model perfectly, using her talent and voice to stand up as an activist in the Tacoma community. Passionate about social justice, the poet has focused much of her efforts on youth programs, encouraging art and expression since arriving in Tacoma in 2010. Beginning in 2012 Nguyen created a teen hip-hop and poetry program at the STAR Center called “The RIOT.” Since this time, Nguyen has worked with queer youth and young adults at the Oasis Center, encouraging self-expression, violence prevention and leadership development through the arts.
Currently, Nguyen asserts the importance of community involvement and social justice, continuing to work within the community and beyond to effect change through the arts. The poet is a facilitator at BRIDGES, a center for grieving youth and families, using creative expression and community development to foster a support group. Nguyen has also worked outside of youth programs as an organizer of Tacoma Stands Up, leading rallies and arts events to promote peaceful organization, community and an end to police violence.
As the 2015-2017 poet laureate, Nguyen joins in a group of impressive artists and activists. Former laureates have included Lucas Smiraldo, Josie Emmons Turner, Tammy Robacker, Antonio Edwards Jr. and William Kupinse. Most recently, Lucas Smiraldo, poet laureate from 2011 to 2013, created the Laureate Listening Project, an online audio anthology honoring the Tacoma community, culture and history through poetry. After the show on May 1, Nguyen entered her position as Tacoma’s Poet Laureate, continuing in her path of social justice, community involvement and art. For more information on Nguyen, other poet laureates or Tacoma arts programs visit the City of Tacoma website.