The Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission is comprised of volunteers who administer, promote, and maintain the state’s Laureate program. Commission members represent diverse populations across the state and the member organizations that support the laureateship: the Council for Wisconsin Writers; Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters; Wisconsin Center for the Book; Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets; Wisconsin Humanities Council; Wisconsin Arts Board; Write-On, Door County; and Chippewa Valley Writers Guild.
Abayomi Animashaun holds an MFA from the International Writing Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a PhD from the University of Kansas. A recipient of the Hudson Prize and a grant from the International Center for Writing and Translation, Abayo is the author of two poetry collections, Sailing for Ithaca and The Giving of Pears, and editor of two anthologies, Walking the Tightrope: Poetry and Prose by LGBTQ Writers from Africa and Others Will Enter the Gates: Immigrant Poets on Poetry, Influences, and Writing in America. He teaches writing and literature at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.
Kimberly Blaeser, Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015–2016, represents the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters on the Poet Laureate Commission Board. She lives in Lyons Township (midway between Burlington and Lake Geneva), Wisconsin. Drawing on literal observation and the power of metaphor, Blaeser’s poems create complex harmonies between the vibrant natural world and the resonant human imagination.
The author of three acclaimed poetry collections—Absentee Indians and Other Poems, Apprenticed to Justice, and Trailing You—Blaeser has seen her work earn many and various recognitions, nationally and internationally. Reviewing the many “moments of uncanny epiphany” in her poems, critic Tom Gannon describes Blaeser as a “brilliant naturist.” Describing Absentee Indians and Other Poems, award winning poet and activist, Joy Harjo, writes “[t]hese poems are small sure lights in the darkness—poems to lead us home.” And National Book Award winner, Sherman Alexie, calls Apprenticed to Justice “a gorgeous book.” In selecting Blaeser, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission praised her passion for the arts and her ability to reach broad audiences through poems that explore her Native culture, poems of place and community, poems of witness, family poems, poems centered in women’s experience, and poems with a sly sense of humor.
Of Anishinaabe ancestry and a native of White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, Blaeser appreciates the opportunity to live with her family in the woods and wetlands of rural Wisconsin. Blaeser works as Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she teaches Creative Writing, Native American Literature, and American Nature Writing.
Sheri Castelnuovo has been responsible for the planning and execution of public programming at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art since 1991. She oversees all of the museum’s educational programming, including the docent program, school programs and learning resources; adult enrichment programs; youth and family programs; online exhibitions; and film and video series. She serves as co-curator of the Wisconsin Triennial Exhibition and collaborates with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets to present interdisciplinary poetry events at MMoCA. She has a Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Arts Administration and a BFA from Tufts University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Castelnuovo became a member-at-large of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission in 2014.
A 2018 Pushcart nominee for her poem “Extortion Social”, Vida Cross’ book of poetry, Bronzeville at Night:1949, debuted in 2017. She is a Cave Canem fellow who holds an MFA in Writing and an MFA in Filmmaking from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, an MA in English from Iowa State University and a BA in both English-writing and History from Knox College. Her work has appeared in a number of anthologies and journals including Milwaukee Noir (Akashic Press), The Creativity and Constraint Anthology, A Civil Rights Retrospective, Tabula Poetica, Transitions Magazine, the Cave Canem Anthology XII: Poems 2008-2009, The Literary Review, Reed Magazine, The Journal of Film and Video, among others.
Nick Demske lives in Racine and works at the Racine Public Library. He serves as Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission representative for Wisconsin Center for the Book. Nick is the author of a self-titled collection of poetry, which was picked for the 2010 Fence Modern Poets Series prize, and a chapbook, "Skeetly Deetly Deet," which was published by Strange Cage Press. His work has been taught at dozens of universities and colleges throughout the country, including Notre Dame, Columbia, Cleveland State, Marquette and many more. In 2011, Nick went on a 40+ city book tour that covered both coasts of America and back. Nick is a vegan, an urban gardener and a crappy student of sitting meditation.
Writer and poet Ronnie Hess serves as Chair of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. She is the author of five chapbooks, most recently O Is for Owl (Borderland Books) and Canoeing a River with No Name (Bent Paddle Press); and two award-winning culinary travel guides, Eat Smart in France, and Eat Smart in Portugal (Ginkgo Press). She has contributed to many publications—national, regional and local—including Saveur, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Karen Ann Hoffman
Karen Ann Hoffman serves as the Wisconsin Arts Board representative on the commission. For her Iroquois raised beadwork, she was named Wisconsin Master Folk Artist in 2007. Her works are held in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution-NMAI, The Wisconsin State Museum, The New York State Museum, and the Indianapolis Childrens' Museum.Karen Ann was a member of the Skanikwat Project, Nakuru, Kenya, Africa, which used tribal beadwork as a medium to foster peace across languages, races, religions, and continents. Karen Ann lives in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and is a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.
B.J. Hollars represents the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild (beginning January 1, 2019). He is the author of several books, most recently The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders, Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds, and From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, Hollars serves as a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and the founder and executive director of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. An associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he lives a simple existence with his wife, their children, and their dog.
Erik Richardson represents the Council for Wisconsin Writers on the Poet Laureate Commission Board. Richardson lives in Milwaukee with his family and assorted pets. In addition to his role as Development Manager at the United Performing Arts Fund, he also teaches a few courses at Carroll University. With a handful of awards and honorable mentions scattered about, his second chapbook, song of ourself, from Aldrich Press, was published this year.
Jerod Santek is the Executive Director of Write On, Door County. He serves on the board of Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) and on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, along with several local boards. He has published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in a number of print and online literary journals and magazines.
Chuck Stebelton is author of An Apostle Island (Oxeye Press, 2019) and The Platformist (Cultural Society, 2012). His first book, Circulation Flowers (Tougher Disguises, 2005), was winner of the inaugural Jack Spicer Award. He is a member-at-large of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. He was Literary Program Director at Woodland Pattern Book Center from 2005 to 2017. He currently serves as Program Coordinator for Interfaith Older Adult Programs in Milwaukee, and is a participant in the Lynden Sculpture Garden residency program. As a Wisconsin Master Naturalist volunteer he has offered interpretive hikes for arts organizations including Lynden Sculpture Garden, Friends of Lorine Niedecker, and Woodland Pattern Book Center.
Angie Trudell Vasquez
Angie Trudell Vasquez received her MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts in May 2017. In 2016, she was a poetry panelist at Split This Rock! Her poems have been published most recently in the Yellow Medicine Review and the San Diego Poetry Annual 2015-2016. She has work forthcoming in the Raven Chronicles and Return to the Gathering Place of the Waters. She was nominated for a Pushcart in 2014 for her essay, "The Making of the Latina Monologues." Since 2005 she has worked for the ACLU of Wisconsin and developed their youth poetry program. Her work has been performed on stage in Portland, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Her op eds have reached millions. She has her own press, Art Night Books, and has self-published two collections of her own work, The Force Your Face Carries and Love in War Time. Art Night Books will resume publishing other’s work now that she is done with graduate school.
Ed Werstein, Milwaukee, is the East Region Vice President of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, the organization he represents on the Commission. Ed received the 2018 Lorine Niedecker Prize for Poetry from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. He has two collections of poetry: a chapbook, Who Are We Then?, published by Partisan Press, and a full-length collection, A Tar Pit to Die In, from Kelsay Books. Ed has two sons and four grandchildren, two each in Milwaukee and Portland, OR. His two daughters-in-law happen to be immigrants (Chile and Mexico), but are not dangerous, no matter what the president thinks.