Tucson Poet Laureate and UA Alumnus TC Tolbert Receives Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship

April 24, 2019

The $100,000 fellowship will allow Tolbert to conduct workshops with trans, non-binary, and queer (TNBQ) groups and create public installations highlighting TNBQ and LGBTQ+ voices and issues across Tucson.

TC Tolbert

TC Tolbert has been named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow: “It’s time we make public spaces safe for TNBQ folx and we can begin that process by listening to TNBQ youth.”

Photo by Mamta Popat


TC Tolbert, who is the poet laureate of Tucson, Arizona, has been named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Tolbert, who received a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the University of Arizona, will receive a $100,000 award in recognition of their literary merit and to support civic programs. Tolbert is one of 13 state or local poets laureate nationwide to be honored.

“I’m absolutely humbled by this award and deeply grateful that the committee recognizes the necessity of amplifying the many voices of Tucson’s trans, non-binary, and queer communities,” said Tolbert, who identifies as trans and genderqueer.

Founded in 1934, the Academy of American Poets champion poets, poetry, and the work of poetry organizations. This new award is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and reflects this spring’s national poetry programming theme of Poetry & Democracy offered by the Poetry Coalition, an alliance of more than 20 organizations that promote the value poets bring to our culture.

“By supporting poets laureate at the state and local level, we hope to ensure that more people become acquainted with poets and poetry where they live and have an opportunity to benefit from innovative and groundbreaking programming close to home,” said Michael Jacobs, chairman of the Academy of American Poets.

With the fellowship funds, Tolbert will conduct a series of workshops with trans, non-binary, and queer (TNBQ) groups, primarily youth, and create a series of public installations highlighting TNBQ and LGBTQ+ voices and issues across Tucson.

Tolbert said the workshops are designed to introduce TNBQ youth to TNBQ poetry from across the globe and support them in writing and recording their own poems.

“We will then infuse Tucson’s street corners, bathrooms, and airwaves with TNBQ voices from across the city,” Tolbert said.

“I hope foregrounding TNBQ voices in public space will foster powerful connections amongst TNBQ youth and with the larger LGBTQ+ and allied communities while also raising awareness in cis and straight communities about the continuing oppression faced by TNBQ folx,” Tolbert said. “Finally, I hope this will galvanize cis and straight people to act in solidarity with TNBQ folx and follow the voices of TNBQ youth.”

Tolbert received an MFA in creative writing, with a specialization in poetry, from the UA in 2005. S/he is the author of Gephyromania (Ahsahta Press, 2014) and four chapbooks of poetry as well as coeditor, with Trace Peterson, of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2013).

“TC Tolbert is a poet whose work exemplifies how poetry can spark conversation and can help us learn about one another’s lives and unique experiences, which promotes greater understanding,” said Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets. “We’re honored to help underwrite Tolbert and the other 12 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellows, all of whom are exceptional leaders.”

Tolbert is a lecturer in the UA Department of English and a core teaching artist in the UA Poetry Center's Writing the Community program, which pairs teaching writers and poets with a local Tucson Unified School District classroom for 8-week-long writing residencies.

“This is a fantastic honor for TC, who’s one of our very favorite MFA alumni for both the quality of their work, as well as the attention to the local that’s been a huge part of TC’s presence and ethos as a teacher, writer, poet laureate, and citizen,” said Ander Monson, director of the UA MFA program in creative writing. “This honor is well deserved, very gratifying, and not in the least surprising.”