The Washington State Poet Laureate serves to build awareness and appreciation of poetry — including Washington’s legacy of poetry — through public readings, workshops, and presentations in communities throughout the state. The position was established in April 2007 when the Washington State Legislature passed a bill that recognized the value of poetry to the culture and heritage of the state. Washington joined several other states in appointing an official state poet laureate position.
Rena Priest became the sixth Washington State Poet Laureate on April 14, 2021, and her term will run until March 31, 2023.
Priest’s literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with the 2018 American Book Award, and her most recent work is Sublime Subliminal. A member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, she is the first Indigenous poet to assume the role. She succeeds poets Claudia Castro Luna (2018-2021), Tod Marshall (2016-2018), Elizabeth Austen (2014-2016), Kathleen Flenniken (2012–2014), and Sam Green (2007–2009). Learn more about past laureates here.
Priest’s work can be found in Poetry Northwest, Pontoon Poetry, Verse Daily, Poem-a-Day at Poets.org, and elsewhere. She has taught Comparative Cultural Studies and Contemporary American Issues at Western Washington University and Native American Literature at Northwest Indian College. Priest holds a BA in English from Western Washington University and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.
Each laureate puts their own unique focus on the position, and Priest focuses on two primary goals during her term: celebrating poetry in Washington’s tribal communities, and using poetry to increase appreciation of the natural world and the threats facing it.
The Washington State Poet Laureate is appointed by the Governor. The program is jointly sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA). The position is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, ArtsWA, and Humanities Washington.