Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Houston’s new Poet Laureate, Aris Kian Brown.
She is the city’s sixth poet laurate and the youngest to be chosen. At 25 years old, the University of Houston alum will carry the poetic baton held by 2021-2023 poet laureate, Emanuelee “Outspoke” Bean.
Brown’s two-year term will begin this month and run through April 2025 and will create and implement a community outreach project along with receiving an honorarium through the City Initiative Gant Program of the City of Houston.
Brown has established herself as a force in the creative writing space. Recently, she ranked #2 at the 2023 Womxn of the World Poetry Slam, won the 2022 Imprint Marion Barthelme Prize in Creative Writing for Students with Service to the Houston Literary Community and serves as the Narrative Change and Media Manager at Houston in Action.
The Defender spoke with Brown about this latest achievement and what she has in store for the community during her term.
Defender: How does it feel to be chosen as Houston’s sixth poet laureate, and the youngest to be chosen?
Brown: I’m really excited about it. It’s an extension of the work that I’ve been doing. It’s always interesting to hear the word ‘youngest’ because I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes with all of the wild and ridiculous things of Houston occurring constantly. I felt like this is just a larger extension of the work that I’m interested in doing.
Defender: When were you first introduced to poetry?
Brown: I remember writing my first poem at 10 years old. I would write poems throughout high school. I wrote in college, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I understood this was something I could do for a living. That’s the moment when I joined Coug Slam at UH, and I started studying creative writing and my professor told me I can study this on the grad level. And that’s when I knew that this is more than a side hobby.
Defender: What role does a poet laureate play in the advancements of arts and culture?
Brown: I see it as a way to connect community members and Houston arts initiatives to develop art programs to amplify the arts. Also, I see it as an opportunity to find poetry in places that most people might not normally find it, or introduce it to places where folks may not normally see it. It’s also a way to amplify poets, artists and writers that are doing brilliant work in the neighborhoods that they’re a part of.
Defender: How have you been able to develop and craft your skills during your time at UH?
Brown: In their creative writing program, we do workshops. I work with my peers, my colleagues, my professors, but a lot of my training has also been in community workshops and slam spaces with Houston poets like RJ Wright and Ebony Stewart. The poet Arianna Brown has virtual workshops that have been so valuable to me. In 2018, Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton, the third Houston Poet Laureate had a writer’s colony workshop that was really useful and exciting and it helped me hone my craft. The Texas Poet Laureate Lupe Mendez has been a resource for me as a writer and to help me understand the industry of how to survive and work with others.
Defender: What poets or literature inspires your work?
Brown: I’m a big fan of Patricia Smith. She is like the Queen icon of poetry. I’m also a big fan of Vievee Francis. She has also inspired a lot of my work. Of course, poets in my community like Ariana Brown, Ebony Stewart; their work has really inspired how I see my own work. I look up to Black women poets as inspiration for what I want to write about.
Defender: How do you describe your style of poetry?
Brown: I’m still figuring it out. I don’t think I have a specific style. I’m new to the poetry world. There are poets who have been doing this for decades. I started seriously writing in 2018. I’m still seeing how my style develops.
Defender: What does your work flow entail?
Brown: Sometimes it takes a lot of curated time and stillness that I don’t often have because I work a full-time job and organizing my life. The writing process is still something I’m figuring out. But thankfully, with all of the amazing writers and poets and workshop leaders and facilitators, I’ve learned to write based off of prompts and giving myself time by actually scheduling time to write. Sometimes it comes out in one large flow and I can sit down and write line by line. Sometimes, I have to make lots of edits and drafts. So, it really does depend on the amount of time that I have.
Defender: Have you connected with other poet laureates? Any advice that they’ve shared with you to help you along your journey?
Brown: Texas Poet Laureate Lupe Mendez has always been a mentor to me. He helped me with my poetry journey. D.E.E.P has been really amazing. She mentioned my name in rooms that I’ve not been in so I could get opportunities. She recognizes the value of speaking on people’s talents and ensuring that new rooms know different voices. I think the most support I’ve received is from ambassadors of poetry in the community. Those who might not have the title of poet laureate but have major impact and influence regardless of it, like Ebony Stewart who has been an advocate for Black women and poets in Texas. She has encouraged my work, edited and challenged my work. Ariana Brown, as well. R.J. Wright has been my coach and has pushed my writing as far as it could possibly go. I also want to mention Writers in the Schools Emerging Writer’s Fellowship and the people who helped me see through not just my own poetry but how I can amplify the stories of writers of color.
Defender: What projects do you hope to work on in your new role?
Brown: I applied to the Houston Poet Laureate position with my background in communication to working in Houston in Action. I see all of my work connected to each other. Right now, my major end of two-year project is focused on language justice and thinking about not just interviewing with Houstonians and how they see the world and imagining it with an Afro-futuristic perspective, but also seeing their words as poetry and putting that together to be its own poem. Stitching their answers together and translating the poem into different languages of Houston. I’ll work with language justice experts, see what translations would look like and how to get languages other than English involved with this project. Of course, in between I would love to see free open mics and workshop spaces. I would love to implement abolitionist workshops. I would love to work with different neighborhood community centers and library spaces to ensure that there is a space for poetry happening there.