Poet Laureate Spotlight: Willie Perdomo

Photo Credit: Poetry Foundation


Willie Perdomo, the former Poet Laureate of New York (2021-2023), is a dynamic force in contemporary poetry, blending streetwise vernacular with profound insights on identity, culture, and community. Appointed as New York State Poet Laureate in 2021, Perdomo has established himself as a significant literary voice, particularly within the Latinx and broader American poetic landscape.


Perdomo’s roots trace back to East Harlem, also known as El Barrio, a cultural cornerstone that heavily influences his work.His upbringing in this vibrant neighborhood permeates his collections, creating a rich tapestry of sounds, sights, and voices that resonate with authenticity and passion. His poetry is deeply personal and politically charged, often addressing themes of race, family, and the urban experience. 


Among his notable works are “The Crazy Bunch,” a vivid portrayal of friendship and youth in East Harlem during the 1990s, and “The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon,” which tells the story of a Nuyorican conga player and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His earlier collections, “Smoking Lovely” and “Where a Nickel Costs a Dime,” also received critical acclaim, cementing his reputation as a poet who captures the heartbeat of urban life.


In his role as Poet Laureate, Perdomo has initiated several projects aimed at fostering poetry within New York’s diverse communities. One such initiative is “A New York State of Poetry,” a workshop and reading series that seeks to engage poets and audiences from various backgrounds. Additionally, he has developed the East Harlem Poetry Collective, which provides craft workshops and coaching for local youth poets, empowering the next generation of writers to find their voices and tell their stories.


Perdomo’s commitment to accessibility and community engagement extends to his multimedia projects as well. “Street Poetry is My Every Day,” a podcast he produces, explores the history of poetry in New York through interviews, poetry readings, and performances in unconventional spaces. This project not only celebrates the city’s rich poetic heritage but also brings poetry to broader, more diverse audiences through its audio format.


Perdomo’s work as an educator is another facet of his dedication to the literary arts. He currently teaches English at Phillips Exeter Academy, where he inspires young minds with his passion for poetry and literature. His influence as a teacher and mentor is evident in the way he encourages students to explore their own narratives and develop their unique poetic voices.


The accolades and fellowships Perdomo has garnered, including the Cy Twombly Award for Poetry and a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, are testaments to his talent and impact on the literary world. His poetry, characterized by its lyrical intensity and social relevance, continues to captivate readers and listeners alike, making him a pivotal figure in contemporary American poetry.


The tenure of Willie Perdomo as New York State Poet Laureate highlights his profound contributions to poetry and his unwavering commitment to cultural and community engagement. His work not only enriches the literary landscape but also bridges gaps, bringing poetry to diverse audiences and nurturing the next generation of poets.


Learn more about US poet laureates through readpoetry’s spotlight series.