After a five-month search, Alachua County now has an official live-in poet.
The Alachua County Commission selected 57-year-old E. Stanley Richardson as the county’s first poet laureate, a position meant to teach the community about writing and address social issues, during a meeting Jan. 14. Richardson’s term lasts for two years, and he is given an annual $2,000 honorarium, according to the commission.
Richardson specializes in topics like nature, farming, jazz and blues and social justice, he said.
“I’m still a little bit shocked,” he said. “It hasn’t really set in yet. I am just happy the county is recognizing the literary arts in making an addition this way.”
Commissioner Robert Hutchinson, who has served with the county for three terms, originally pitched the idea of having a poet laureate. He said the process of choosing who it would be was one of the toughest choices the commission has ever made.
“We do a lot for the performing arts and digital arts, but the written arts tend not to have too much attention in government operations,” Hutchinson said. “I hoped for somebody just like Mr. Richardson who would be willing to confront the most difficult questions that we deal with as a society.”
One of Richardson’s first assignments as poet laureate is to craft a poem for a memorial service on Feb. 7 dedicated to lynching victims in Alachua County. More than 40 people were lynched from 1867 to 1926, according to the Alachua County Historical Commission.
Richardson has also involved himself in many projects to enhance youth poetry, particularly ARTSPEAKS, an organization he founded.
ARTSPEAKS has hosted an annual poetry event, “Courageous Young Voices”, for the past six years as a way for the youth to speak out through their writing, he said. In the past, students have written about climate change, gun rights and other social movements. The free event is open to the public and will be held March 8 at The Historic Thomas Center.
Hutchinson said he hopes Richardson will encourage others to write poetry and discuss topics that need to be spoken about.
“We’re in difficult times right now in general,” he said. “So I think he’s the right poet for our time because he will speak truth to power and he will say what needs to be said.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the Alachua County Commission selected the poet laureate and to reflect the current age of Richardson. The Alligator originally reported differently.
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E. Stanley Richardson
Anna Wilder is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter. She's from Melbourne, Florida, and she enjoys being outdoors or playing the viola when she's not writing.