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John Warner Smith

John Warner Smith, a former cabinet secretary, was named Friday Louisiana’s newest Poet Laureate by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and Gov. John Bel Edwards.

His two-year term begins Wednesday.

The secretary of Labor for then Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Smith now teaches English at Southern University in Baton Rouge, in addition to regularly publishing poetry.

“He is making history today as the first African American male appointed as Louisiana Poet Laureate,” Edwards said in a prepared statement. "John Warner Smith's writing captures the human experience through meaningful, passionate poetry that moves your emotions. John is not only a talented and gifted poet, he is a trailblazer who devotes himself to education and the greater good of the community.”

Smith has four published collections of poetry: “Muhammad’s Mountain” (Lavender Ink, 2018), “Spirits of the Gods” (ULL Press, 2017), “Soul Be A Witness” (MadHat Press, 2016) and “A Mandala of Hands” (Kelsay Books - Aldrich Press, 2015). His fifth collection, “Our Shut Eyes: New & Selected Poems on Race in America,” is forthcoming this year from MadHat Press.

Smith’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals across the country, including Ploughshares, Callaloo, North American Review and Missouri Review, and he is the winner of the 2019 Linda Hodge Bromberg Poetry Award. Much of his poetry draws upon African American history and his personal experiences of growing up and living in the South.

As Louisiana’s literary ambassador for the next two years, Smith will travel the state encouraging fellow Louisianans to explore and engage with poetry.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.