Holy Cross professor Oliver de la Paz is Worcester's next Poet Laureate

Oliver de la Paz
Oliver de la Paz
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WORCESTER — Award-winning poet and College of the Holy Cross associate professor Oliver de la Paz has been named as the City of Worcester’s next poet laureate.

He will serve from January 2023 to December 2025, and succeeds outgoing Poet Laureate Juan Matos, who served in the position from January 2020 to December 2022.

The announcement was made by Worcester City Manager Eric D. Batista, Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty, the Worcester City Council and the city’s Cultural Development Division.

"I'm very excited and can't wait to hit the ground running to help the community develop some programs based on literacy and literacy arts," de la Paz said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

De la Paz is the author of several published works including "The Boy in the Labyrinth" (2019),  "Post Subject: A Fable" (2014), "Requiem for the Orchard" (2010), "Furious Lullaby" (2007) and "Names Above Houses" (2001). In 2021 he was named by the National Endowment for the Arts as one of 35 writers to receive a Creative Writing Fellowship of $25,000.

De la Paz’s first official appearance as Worcester’s Poet Laureate will be at City Manager Batista’s swearing-in ceremony Friday at City Hall. He said he'll be giving a recitation of a poem he has written specially for the occasion.

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A formal event to recognize de la Paz will be announced at a later date, where he will be presented with a ceremonial medal created by local metal artist Pam Farren.

“I am thrilled to begin my term as city manager alongside such a talented and distinguished poet. I look forward to Oliver’s tenure as the Worcester Poet Laureate and cannot wait to see what literary impact he has in store for our community,” Batista said.

De la Paz lives in Holden, but he said he believes he can be an effective Poet Laureate for Worcester.

"I do. I think the position is one that's for the wider community, a position that's more someone serving as a liaison for the arts, and I've been doing that my entire career," he said.

In his application to the Poet Laureate program, de la Paz noted that his work tells stories of his own family’s immigration. He hopes that these existing works will help him to “serve as a literary model for up-and-coming wordsmiths through writing workshops in conjunction with library programming for people who may not have had the opportunity to share their truths.”

In addition to sharing their poetry and creating new works during their term, the Worcester Poet Laureate also serves as a mentor to the Worcester Youth Poet Laureate. Local poet and community activist Adael Mejia will continue to serve as Youth Poet Laureate until his two-year term ends in December.

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Reflecting on Matos’ tenure as Poet Laureate, Yaffa Fain of the city’s Cultural Development Division said he did “tremendous work,” having participated in “countless community readings, workshops in Worcester Public Schools and with the community, from the Worcester Senior Center to the Worcester Public Library to hours on Zoom. Juan is a poetic powerhouse and has served with compassion, resilience and incredible dedication.”

“This transition is bittersweet. We’ll miss working with Juan regularly but wish him well in his next verse, which will include continuing to work with young poets in Worcester. We are looking forward to helping Oliver develop plans for his term as Poet Laureate, and to what he and Adael will accomplish together,” added Nikki Erskine, also of the city’s cultural development division.

The Worcester Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate programs are initiatives of the city’s cultural development division. Both Poets Laureate serve as "official ambassadors to Worcester’s historic and vibrant cultures of poetry and literary arts, using their positions to share the transformative qualities of poetry and the written word, to celebrate and amplify the city’s great writers, and to help shape the next generation of literary enthusiasts."

A four-person committee reviewed dozens of applications to the Poet Laureate program: Jason Homer, Worcester Public Library executive director; John Hodgen, winner of multiple awards in poetry and visiting assistant professor of English at Assumption University; Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez, award-winning poet and associate professor of practice in creative writing at Clark University; and Therese Gleason Carr, board member of the Worcester County Poetry Association.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Holy Cross professor Oliver de la Paz is Worcester's new Poet Laureate