Shirley LeFlore Named New Poet Laureate

By Free Radical

Shirley LeFlore was selected as St. Louis's next poet laureate.

Shirley LeFlore was selected as St. Louis’s next poet laureate.

Critically acclaimed poet Shirley LeFlore has been announced as the new St. Louis poet laureate. LeFlore was officially sworn in on November 9 at City Hall.

“I feel very good about it because this is the town I was born in,” LeFlore said of receiving the honor. “I’m so happy. My history is deep with St. Louis. I’m 78 years old – and I’ve been doing this for 50 years.”

A native of St. Louis, LeFlore was a member of the locally revered Black Artists’ Group (BAG). In the 1970s, she founded the Messenger Singers, an ensemble composed of all women that performed with the likes of trumpeter Baikida Carroll, and the percussionist Famoudou Don Moye of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. As a solo artist,she has preformed with local R&B legend Fontella Bass.

LeFlore has also held various teaching and educational administration positions at St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Webster University and UMSL.

Though she has concentrated on spoken word poetry, her work has appeared in a wide range of books and her own Brassbones and Rainbows which was published in 2013.

The decision is nearly two years in the making as local officials rankled over who would succeed the city’s inaugural poet laureate Michael Castro. In December 2016, a specially appointed task force selected Jane Ellen Ibur as his successor. However, shortly after her selection it was revealed that  local poet and educator MK Stallings was allegedly removed from that committee when he voiced objections to Ibur’s nomination. Stallings was of the opinion that LeFlore should have been chosen as the poet laureate.

In late October, the committee reconvened and agreed that LeFlore would serve from November to April 2019 when Ibur becomes laureate.

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