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Luisa A. Igloria to Step Into Provost’s Spotlight as Honors Keep Coming

By David Simpson


Back in March, poet and Professor Luisa A. Igloria was ready to appear as the guest of honor at the spring Provost's Spotlight.

But the pandemic elbowed into our lives, shut down our campuses, and blotted out all events where people would have gathered for enlightenment or fun. Not to mention amping up our anxiety and making some of us deathly ill.

Hang up a sign: Postponed by Plague.

So instead of being feted in March at University Theatre, she will take a virtual stage on Sept. 23, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. (details below).

There is even more reason to celebrate her now. In mid-July, Gov. Ralph Northam announced she had been named Virginia's new poet laureate. Later that month she was sworn in, via Web conference, by Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.

It's yet another honor for Igloria, who holds the titles of University Professor, Eminent Scholar and Louis I. Jaffe Endowed Professor and has received dozens of literary awards. She teaches on the faculty of the M.F.A. creative writing program, in the Department of English.

Having already spoken with the Center for Faculty Development for a March article, she graciously agreed to a second interview.

Congratulations on being named poet laureate. What does that position entail? Or do you plan to create your own job description?

Thank you so much! It's such a great honor and I feel truly grateful.

This is an honorary position (there is no compensation), but there are so many luminous predecessors. And with Rita Dove who was the first African American Poet Laureate of Virginia and of the United States, Sofia Starnes (who is of Spanish and Filipino ancestry), my friend and former colleague Tim Seibles, and myself — now there are four poets of color who have been appointed to this distinguished position.

This was in the announcement from Richmond: "Governor Northam is focused on building a Commonwealth that works better for all people, no matter who they are or where they live. During your term, you will assist the Governor in solving real problems real people face."

While I haven't had a chance to sit down and think about specific details, the Virginia poet laureateship is such a unique position for service and engagement through poetry. Because of the pandemic, likely many projects or programs will be virtual — mediated through Zoom or other similar platforms. In this way I hope to have many conversations with others, and to find meaningful ways to support and promote the voices of Virginian poets in particular and the work of poets and poetry in general as an important part of living in these times.

How has the pandemic affected your writing, teaching and research?

I continue to read and write, and with my colleagues I'm thinking of the pedagogical strategies that used to feel normal in a face to face classroom situation, but that now must address the online modalities we need to use in order to continue being viable resources for our students. I feel that a greater sense of urgency now touches everything we do in all the different aspects of our lives — not just in writing, teaching, and research.

For me, isolation due to this pandemic and the heightened tensions and anxieties arising from it is also making many forms of systemic violence (especially the violence inflicted on black, brown, indigenous bodies and minority communities) more visible. Living in this climate of such precarity, I'm constantly checking what is really important: what do we really need to do, how much do we really need to do, now that the culture of constant/compulsive "production" is breaking down all around us?

During this crisis, what role can poetry play in our lives?

Poets have always historically lent their voices in times of struggle. There have been so many amazing expressions of strength, love, and solidarity shared by poets through virtual/socially mediated/live-streamed readings and events — and despite physical distance, I feel that there can be a much more generous upwelling and sharing of resources in this way. Poetry is even more important during these times, because by its very nature, poetry requires us to pay attention not just to language but also to the world around us. Poetry reminds us that our voices and our interior lives are important, that our vulnerability is not weakness, that everything is connected.

Tell us about the "ODU At Home" videos you recorded.

Phil Walzer, University editor at Monarch Magazine, reached out to invite me to make at least three video recordings for the "ODU At Home" series. I just used my mobile phone, and then worked with videographer Dylan Harrell on these recordings. It's neat that the University is thinking of ways to create other kinds of content that can be shared with students, faculty, staff, and other members of the ODU community — to help us feel more connected during this time of isolation.

Tell us about the book you have coming out in September.

"Maps for Migrants and Ghosts" (co-winner, 2019 Crab Orchard Open Poetry Prize; Southern Illinois University Press, fall 2020) continues to look at recurrent themes in my work — displacement, exile, origins; how even our most personal and intimate experiences are linked to larger collective histories that precede us. There are also poems about family; about the family home we shared for many years; the waxing and waning of family fortunes; my realization that the questions I still have about the people closest to me may probably never be answered. The poems in this book look at the selves we used to be before we traveled to where we are now, before we became who we (think/feel) we are now. We think we leave others behind when we leave a country; we also leave ourselves behind. I had to write this book in part to make my way back to that abandoned self, though she has also changed.

The Provost's Spotlight is scheduled for 3:30 to 5 p.m. Sept. 23, via Web conference. CFD Director Annette Finley-Croswhite will host the event. Details:

Join Zoom Meeting | Meeting ID: 952 7033 6407 | Passcode: 295665

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