April is National Poetry Month. This year, St. Petersburg is celebrating as never before with a month-long City of Writers Poetry Festival, organized by its poet laureate, Gloria Muñoz.
“It’s a poetry takeover of the entire city!” said Muñoz, who was appointed in 2022. And she’s not kidding: with fourteen events co-organized with more than 20 community partners, there’s something for everyone at the City of Writers festival.
“I wanted to focus on access and creating programs that include a lot more voices, featuring poetry in an experiential way,” she said.
Poetry is for Everyone
The festival’s opening event, a reading with National Book Award-winning poet Ross Gay on April 1, set the tone for the month to come. On the beautiful spring evening, the courtyard at Tombolo books filled to standing-room only as a Youth Ambassador from St. Pete Youth Farm opened with a poem he had written in a workshop earlier that week. Then Gay – “a gracious, illuminating writer and being,” as Muñoz described him – engaged the crowd with his work on joy, energy, plants, struggle, and loss. Even better, someone thought to bring mulberries (a tribute to Gay’s memorable poem, “To the Mulberry Tree”).
Likewise, other festival events look to bring the whole city into the transformative work of making and enjoying poetry. The calendar includes readings, writing workshops, open mics, book releases, and poetry hangouts, all featuring local poets and writing-oriented organizations.
Muñoz is particularly excited about the Youth Poetry Showcase scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 21 at Studio@620. Teen and tween poets are invited to bring one to three poems to share at this free event. Attendees will have the chance to donate to Cultured Books Literacy Foundation, Inc. and the Barbershop Book Club, two local organizations that support literacy among BIPOC youth.
St. Pete’s Poet Laureate
For Muñoz this work is more than professional – it’s also deeply personal. She is the city’s first Latina poet laureate: “An honor,” she says, “as well as a responsibility.”
“Like a lot of my first-generation friends and immigrant children,” she said, “I feel the need to outdo, to over-perform.” Muñoz, whose family is Colombian, explores some of these nuances of the American dream for Latinx people in her bilingual poetry collection Danzirly, which won both the Academy of American Poets Ambroggio Prize and a Gold Medal Florida Book Award.
When she’s not busy writing, she teaches, helps run a nonprofit that promotes women in film, and writes music with her partner, Mark Feinman, as part of their company Moonlit Música. She also loves being outside, especially in the company of her 3-year-old daughter, Luna, who currently enjoys making various “plant soups” out of the things they find together.
A City of Writers
Ultimately, Muñoz hopes the partnerships she’s building through the City of Writers festival will last long after April has come and gone. She would like to see St. Pete become a city that celebrates not just the visual arts, but its rich literary culture as well.
After all, she says, poetry is an essential part of the human experience. Even if we don’t commit it to the page, she explains, “We sometimes speak in iambic pentameter. Our breaths area like line breaks. And we make metaphors all the time! Everyone is a poet in some way.”