Yalie Saweda Kamara becomes the first Sierra Leonean to be inaugurated Poet Laureate of Cincinnati Mercantile Library 2022-23

Sallu Kamuskay Sallu
Sallu Kamuskay Sallu
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Yalie Saweda Kamara becomes the first Sierra Leonean to be inaugurated Poet Laureate of Cincinnati Mercantile Library 2022-23

Yalie Saweda Kamara is a Sierra Leonean-American writer, educator, and researcher from Oakland, California and the 2022-2023 Cincinnati and Mercantile Library Poet Laureate (2-year term). A Taft Dissertation Completion Fellow and Philanthropic Educational Organization Named Scholar, she received her Ph.D. in Creative Writing (poetry) and English Literature at the University of Cincinnati.

Yalie Saweda Kamara is the author of two collections of poetry, A Brief Biography of My Name (Akashic Books/African Poetry Book Fund, 2018), which is a part of the New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tano) series and When The Living Sing (Ledge Mule Press, 2017) and the editor of the forthcoming anthology, What You Need to Know About Me: Youth Writers on Their Experiences of Migration (The Hawkins Project, 2022). Kamara has been a finalist for the National Poetry Series competition (2020) and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize (2017), and a semifinalist for the Cave Canem Poetry Prize (2021). She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the National Book Critics Circle Emerging Critics Fellow and Callaloo (poetry). Kamara has garnered Pushcart prize and Best of Net anthology nominations.

In addition to being a featured poet at the 2020 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, Yalie Saweda Kamara‘s poetry, fiction, interviews, and translations have either appeared or are forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Callaloo, A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry, Black Camera: An International Journal, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere.

She earned an MFA in Creative Writing (poetry) from Indiana University, Bloomington and an MA in French Culture and Civilization from Middlebury College.

In between her studies, she worked in the field of social justice specializing in educational access and arts facilitation. She has lived in France, Brazil, and the US, and has a particularly soft spot for Oakland, Washington DC, Paris, and the Midwest.

Taking on her Linkind. she said

“A huge, soulful, heartfelt, thank you to my family, dear friends, and new friends who joined me in person and online for my inauguration as the Poet Laureate of Cincinnati. It was one of the most special and gorgeous nights of my life. And likely a historical one—I believe I am the first Sierra Leonean-American adult (I see you former YPL Hannah Sawyerr!) to hold a Poet Laureate position in the US.

My overwhelming gratitude to the Mercantile Library for creating such a warm and inspiring ambiance, to John Faherty, ED of the Mercantile Library, for bookending the night with urgent and necessary words, to Mayor Pureval for such a brilliant and resonant introduction, to Manuel Iris and Pauletta Hansel for ushering me in with such thoughtfulness and care. And to my lovely mother and sister for carrying me—there is no thank you large enough.

To Cincinnati: I can’t wait to dream and build with you and to learn from you again and again. Thank you for believing in me. May I pay every blessing forward.”

Since 2015, the Mercantile Library has partnered in Cincinnati’s Poet Laureate program, hosting the inductions of Pauletta Hansel (2016-’18) and Manuel Iris (2018-’21). We are honored to support and provide a home for the newly imagined Cincinnati and Mercantile Library Poet Laureate Program going forward.  Learn more about the program to date and about the Poet Laureates here.


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