Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission

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 Art Lit Lab; Chippewa Valley Writers Guild; Council for Wisconsin WritersWisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters; Wisconsin Center for the Book; Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets; Wisconsin HumanitiesWisconsin Arts Board; Woodland Pattern; and Write-On, Door County.

Statements of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission:

Black Lives Matter:

The Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission mourns the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the many others whose lives and talents have been lost to violence and racism--particularly those killed by law enforcement or destroyed by state-sanctioned violence and racism.  We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with all people striving to create a more just and equitable society for this and future generations.  While we acknowledge the changes required to move in this direction are vast and complex, we want to recognize and uplift the vital role the arts—including poetry—have played in every mass movement in human history. Arts open hearts and minds to new perspectives, educate in ways formal instruction is often incapable of.  In our work promoting the reading and writing of poetry throughout Wisconsin, we will re-double our efforts to take an inclusive, collaborative approach beginning immediately.

Stay tuned for our initial step in this resolve: a list of relevant works by African American poets from Wisconsin and beyond whose work speaks to this moment most cogently.


The rise in angry rhetoric against immigrants, particularly immigrants of color, the policy of child separation, and the treatment of children in detention camps in the Southern Border of the United States point to a climate of xenophobia, in the United States, that is as dehumanizing as it is inhumane. Because we understand that the role of the arts involves education and because we affirm its responsible function in working for justice, with this statement, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission stands with immigrant communities and asserts that immigrants are vital contributors to the social fabric and promise of the United States of America.

Members of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission:

  • Angie Trudell Vasquez

    Chair for the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, is a poet, writer, editor, and publisher. She is the current City of Madison Poet Laureate (2020-2024) and the first Latina to hold the position. Angie received her MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2017. Recently, her poems have appeared in The Slow Down, Yellow Medicine Review, Poem-a-Day, About Place Journal and in several anthologies.She has poems on the Poetry Foundation’s website, and was a Ruth Lilly Fellow while at Drake University. In 2018 she was a finalist for the New Women’s Voices series and her book, In Light, Always Light, her third collection of poetry, was published by Finishing Line Press in May 2019. Angie guest edited the Spring 2019 edition of the Yellow Medicine Review with Millissa Kingbird, and co-edited a collection of poetry with Margaret Rozga, then 2019-2020 Wisconsin Poet Laureate, entitled Through This Door, that was released in late 2020 through her small press Art Night Books. Finishing Line Press published her fourth collection of poetry, My People Redux, in January 2022. Active nationally too, she has read poems, been a panelist, and presented at Split This Rock and AWP. In the summer of 2021 she became a Macondo Fellow or a Macondista. At Large Member.

  • Vida Cross

    Vice Chair for the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission is a blues poet and a Pushcart nominee in 2021 and 2018, Vida Cross’ book of poetry, Bronzeville at Night:1949, debuted in 2017. Vida has been on commission since 2019 and is the current Vice Chair. She is the Chairperson for the Creative Writing Division of the English Department and the Stormer Connect Mentoring Programs at Milwaukee Area Technical College.  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 from Knox College. Her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies including Wherever I’m At: An Anthology for Chicago Poetry, A Civil Rights Retrospective, Tabula Poetica, Transitions Magazine, The Literary Review, Reed Magazine, The Journal of Film and Video, Through this Door: Wisconsin in Poems, MilwaukeeNoir, Wising Up Anthology: Creativity and Constraint and Cave Canem Anthology XII. At Large Member.

  • Abayomi Animashaun

    Abayomi Animashaun is an immigrant from Nigeria. He has an MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a PhD from the University of Kansas. His poems have appeared in such print and online journals as Poetry Ireland ReviewDiode, TriQuarterly, The Cortland ReviewAfrican American ReviewThe Adirondack Review, Ruminate Magazine, and Versedaily. A winner of the Hudson Prize and a recipient of a grant from the International Center for Writing and Translation, Animashaun is the author of three poetry collections, SeahorsesSailing for Ithaca, and The Giving of Pears, and editor of three anthologies, Far Villages: Welcomes Essays for New and Beginner PoetsOthers Will Enter the Gates: Immigrant Poets on Poetry, Influences, and Writing in America, and Walking the Tightrope: Poetry and Prose by LGBTQ Writers from Africa (edited with Spectra, Tatenda Muranda, Irwin Iradunkunda, and Timothy Kimutai)Abayomi Animashaun is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and a poetry editor at The Comstock Review. At Large Member.

  • Kimberly Blaeser
    Kimberly Blaeser

    Kimberly Blaeser, past Wisconsin Poet Laureate and founding director of Indigenous Nations Poets, is a writer, photographer, and scholar. She is the author of five poetry collections including Copper Yearning, Apprenticed to Justice, and the bi-lingual Résister en dansant/Ikwe-niimi: Dancing Resistance. Blaeser edited Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry and authored the monograph Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition. An enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, she is an Anishinaabe activist and environmentalist. Blaeser is a Professor at UW–Milwaukee, and MFA faculty for Institute of American Indian Arts. Her photographs, picto-poems, and ekphrastic pieces have appeared in exhibits such as “Ancient Light,” “Visualizing Sovereignty,” and “No More Stolen Sisters.” Blaeser received the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas and a 2022 “Notable Author” award from the Wisconsin Library Association. 

    Other literary awards and fellowships include a Woodland Indian Arts Initiative Grant, an Individual Artist Fellowship in Poetry from the Wisconsin Arts Board, and a Drama of the Year Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas for her play The Museum at Red Earth. Her book Copper Yearning won the Edna Meudt Poetry Book Award from the Council of Wisconsin Writers and was named one of the best Native Books in 2019 by the Tribal College Journal. Her short story “Vision Confidence Score” received the Zona Gale Short Fiction Award and honorable mention in the Rick Demarinis Short Story Contest. Her poetry collection Ancient Light was named a finalist in the Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry from Milkweed Editions. 

    Blaeser lives in the woods and wetlands of Lyons Township, Wisconsin and for portions of each year, in a water-access cabin near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota Additional information available here: http://kblaeser.orgWisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters Member.

  • Esteban Colon
    Esteban Colon

    Esteban Colon lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He served as the '18 - '19 poet laureate of Kenosha county. A member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, he also serves on the Kenosha/Racine Poet Laureate committee, as well as the Bonk! performance series. Esteban is the author of the full length collections "Things I Learned the Hard Way", and "Hell Creek." He also created an art book called "Whispered Soliloqueys" combining his poetry with the art of several Racine artists. He has been published in several chapbooks and a variety of publications. A founding member of the Waiting 4 the Bus poetry collective, he once served as the Head Editor of Exact Change Only, and has performed across many stages in both Illinois and Wisconsin. He's a big fan of games, having spent more than half of his adult life playing games for a living, and loves to hear poetry in person. At Large Member.

  • Reggie Finlayson
    Reggie Finlayson

    Reggie Finlayson is best described as a 19th century man raised in the 20th to navigate the 21st, poet, playwright, author, and performer Reggie Finlayson’s involvement in the arts community began in the late seventies. He has been greatly influenced by the Black Arts Movement that featured the likes of Amiri Baraka, Lorrain Hansberry, Oscar Brown, Jr, Nina Simone, and of course Gil Scott Heron. From the beginning as a performance poet, his work has reflected deep regard for African American history culture.

    Known in story telling circles as Njali Diabate’, and having trained with Alhaji Fabala Kanute’ (Gambian griot of Alex Haley fame), Finlayson has performed before audiences of children, adults, and elders. These performances draw on the epic history of the founding of the Mali Empire, Yoruba oral traditions, and the oral folk traditions of the Americas among others. In the tradition of Zora Neal Hurston, he has sought to archive the African all around us.

    He has conducted residencies across the State of Wisconsin focused on storytelling, writing and gourd art. While thus engaged he has been exposed to fascinating presence of African Americans throughout the state’s history. He has archived the tales of rugged Black settlers of Cheyenne Valley and Pleasant Ridge: the Black hunters, trappers, and traders who plied Menomonee lands; and the resourceful Black residents of urban enclaves often seeking freedom.

    Yet, the past is not the only theme in Finlayson’s work. His poetry is, more often than not, observation of, commentary on, and resistance to the troubling contemporary state of America.He is a founding member of The New World Griots, a writer’s collective that published and performed for over ten years throughout the 1980s and 90s. Among the collaborative works the group produced was The Bagman’s Gift. The group’s members included author James Cameron, who famously recounted the lynching he survived in the book entitled Time of Terror.

    Finlayson is a playwright, whose staged works include Joshua Glover; A man Bound for Freedom, Bridges, and Neon Lights. While performing with the Ko-thi African Dance Company as a percussionist, Finlayson penned the libretto for a dance/opera called Song of Sundiata. It brought to life a portion of the West African saga.

    Finlayson is an author for young readers and has published works that chronicle aspects of the Civil Rights Movement and the music that accompanied it as well as biographies on Colin Powell and Nelson Mandela. Throughout his career, he has often worked with young people. He helped to establish and maintain a mentoring organization for young men known as The DuBois Club. The club conducted workshops focused on the writings of DuBois and others and financial literacy.

    He is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Marquette University. He is a past board member of the Wisconsin Humanities Council. In addition, he is a former member of the board of directors of the first minority owned bank in the state named North Milwaukee State Bank. He recently retired from Milwaukee Area Technical College, where he taught English composition and literature for more than 25 years.

    Although born in the South, Finlayson was raised in Wisconsin. That upbringing has forged a love for the outdoors in him and he routinely engages in kayaking, birding, archery, and camping. His poetry and essays also address these interests. Wisconsin Center for the Book Member.

  • Karen Ann Hoffman
    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.

  • Elan McCallum
    Elan McCallum

    Elan McCallum is a Filipina American writer who grew up dreaming in a haunted house on the edge of the woods. Her work has been published in Barstow & Grand. She has collaborated with E Dance Company and Dotters Books, and she has read her work in the Chippewa Valley's "Hard Times: An Artistic Expression of Poverty in Eau Claire," the Sound and Stories Series, the Snapshot Series, the River Prairie Cultural Festival, and the River Prairie Festival Celebration of Art. Chippewa Valley Writers Guild Member.

  • Jerod Santek

    Jerod Santek is the Founding and Artistic Director of Write On, Door County. From 2009-2019, he served on the board of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, representing Writers Conferences and Centers. He has published poetry and prose in various print and online publications, including PloughsharesHayden's Ferry ReviewBlithe House Quarterly, and The James White Review." Write-On, Door County Member

  • Jodi Vander Molen

    Jodi Vander Molen represents the Wisconsin Humanities on the Poet Laureate Commission.  Jodi grew up on a small farm and has kept a journal for 34 years. She has been crafting words for over 20 years: professionally as a poetry editor and proofreader for The Progressive magazine, and at the many open mics and poetry slams her home of Madison, WI offers. She has served as a judge for Madison’s annual Moth story-telling GrandSLAM, and has taught young National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) authors the art of finding the “Monsters Within Our Pens.” She is a member of Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL), and the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets. Her weekly Tuesday haiku project and more work can be found on Instagram @jvwords.

  • Mario Willis
    Mario Willis

    Mario “The Poet” Willis is a poet, podcaster and spoken word artist. A Milwaukee native, Mario has been featured throughout the city and the Midwest as a spoken word artist, writing guide and performance coach. He is a two-time member of Milwaukee's National Poetry Slam Team; a Poetry Unplugged All-Star; a mainstay community member of one of the longest-running open mic venues in the city, Poet’s Monday at Linneman’s RIverwest Inn; and a curator of numerous open mic and writing series, to include “New Word Document” with Riverwest Public House and "PenGame Writing Workshops" with various cafes and venues.  Mario is the co-creator and host of “Pancakes & Poetry”, a community celebration during Milwaukee's annual Bronzeville Week Festival. Mario has been selected as Milwaukee's Poet Laureate (2022-2024) serving as an ambassador of Poetry for the Milwaukee Public Library system.

Our Member Organizations

  • Wisconsin Academy
  • Wisconsin Center for the Book
  • Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets
  • Wisconsin Humanities Council
  • Wisconsin Arts Board
  • Council for Wisconsin Writers
  • Chippewa Valley Writers Guild
  • Write on Door County