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Roscoe Burnems Selected as the First Poet Laureate for the City of Richmond

Roscoe Burnems
Roscoe Burnems, Poet Laureate for the City of Richmond

This week, the City of Richmond selected its first poet laureate, Douglas Powell, known in the community by his stage name, Roscoe Burnems. Burnems is a poet, published author, spoken-word artist, comedian and teacher. Burnems is also a host for The Art Scene, a co-production of VPM and 19Red, that aired on VPM in Fall, 2019 and Spring, 2020. 

Burnems’ main duties will be to promote poetry throughout Richmond and to connect the medium to communities less familiar with it. Evidence of an interest in and capacity for community engagement was part of the poet laureate selection criteria and a top priority of the mayor’s.

“The Richmond Poet Laureate should relish showing kids, teens and adults the healing, restorative power of the written word,” said Mayor Stoney. “Roscoe has exhibited time and again his interest in bringing poetry to the people, and his list of ideas for engagement projects tells me he’s the Richmonder for the job.”

In addition to regularly leading poetry workshops at multiple schools in the City of Richmond, Burnems has donated his time and talents to the St. Joseph’s Villa Alternative Education Program, University of Richmond’s Partners in the Arts, and ART 180. He is a National Poetry Slam Champion, a former TEDx speaker and the founder of the Writer’s Den Art Collective.

“It is the diversity of the city and the adversities that we are able to overcome as a community that cultivate our resilience as people,” said Burnems. “This is the soil for change and progression to sprout and expand into a tree that blooms the fruit of our tenacity. We decide if that fruit is sweetened with peace or embittered with division.”

In his position as the first-ever Richmond Poet Laureate, Burnems is free to develop his own projects and will serve as a literary leader who reflects his love of poetry to RVA citizens and visitors. He has proposed interweaving poetry into public visual art projects, hosting spoken-word competitions and showcases for youth, and partnering with Richmond Public Library system to organize a series of accessible workshops.

Said Burnems of his new post: “I can’t wait to get started.”

The Richmond Poet Laureate will make his public debut at the Poe Museum’s Birthday Bash, a virtual celebration of Edgar Allan Poe’s 212th birthday. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Human Services Reggie Gordon and Burnems will discuss the role of the poet laureate, how Richmond shaped his poetry and upcoming ways the laureate will engage with the community.