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Tucson poet laureate TC Tolbert honored with $100k national fellowship

TC Tolbert, a University of Arizona lecturer and Tucson's municipal poet, has been named a fellow of the Academy of American Poets Laureate — a recognition which comes with a $100,000 award for literary merit and support for civic programs.

Tolbert is one of 13 state or local poets laureate nationwide to be honored.

"I'm absolutely humbled by this award and deeply grateful that the committee recognizes the necessity of amplifying the many voices of Tucson's trans, non-binary, and queer communities," said Tolbert in a UA news release.

With the fellowship funds, Tolbert will conduct a series of workshops with trans, non-binary, and queer, or TNBQ groups, primarily youth, and create a series of public installations highlighting TNBQ and LGBTQ+ voices and issues across Tucson.

Tolbert, who identifies as trans and genderqueer, said the workshops are designed to introduce TNBQ youth to TNBQ poetry from across the globe and support them in writing and recording their own poems.

"We will then infuse Tucson's street corners, bathrooms, and airwaves with TNBQ voices from across the city," Tolbert said.

Tolbert was named Tucson's poet laureate in 2017 by Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, following a review by the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona and the UA Poetry Center.

Founded in 1934, the Academy of American Poets recognizes and promotes poets, poetry and the work of poetry organizations. This new award is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and reflects this spring's national poetry programming theme of Poetry & Democracy offered by the Poetry Coalition, an alliance of more than 20 organizations which promote the value that poets bring to our culture.

"I hope foregrounding TNBQ voices in public space will foster powerful connections amongst TNBQ youth and with the larger LGBTQ+ and allied communities while also raising awareness in cis and straight communities about the continuing oppression faced by TNBQ folx," Tolbert said. "Finally, I hope this will galvanize cis and straight people to act in solidarity with TNBQ folx and follow the voices of TNBQ youth."

Tolbert received a master's degree in creative writing, with a specialization in poetry, from the UA in 2005. Tolbert is the author of "Gephyromania" and four chapbooks of poetry as well as co-editor, with Trace Peterson, of "Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics."

"TC Tolbert is a poet whose work exemplifies how poetry can spark conversation and can help us learn about one another's lives and unique experiences, which promotes greater understanding," said Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets. 

Tolbert is a lecturer in the UA Department of English and a core teaching artist in the UA Poetry Center's Writing the Community program, which pairs teaching writers and poets with a local Tucson Unified School District classroom for eight-week-long writing residencies.

"This is a fantastic honor for TC, who's one of our very favorite MFA alumni for both the quality of their work, as well as the attention to the local that's been a huge part of TC's presence and ethos as a teacher, writer, poet laureate and citizen," said Ander Monson, director of the UA Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing. "This honor is well deserved, very gratifying and not in the least surprising."

Correction: Due to incorrect information provided by the University of Arizona, an earlier version of this story improperly punctuated TC Tolbert’s name.


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Mamta Popat

T.C. Tolbert