Portland’s new poet laureate is an ECU alum

ECU graduate Maya Williams ’17 is the newest poet laureate for Portland, Maine.

The honorary position is awarded to a Portland resident who “is both an accomplished poet and an excellent ambassador within the community, helping to promote and win new audiences to the art of poetry,” according to the city’s poet laureate program.  

As poet laureate, Williams plans to host a spoken word workshop on emotional well-being, gender identity and racial identity. (Contributed photo)

Williams was nominated for the position by community members in Portland. Their work covers topics such as racial identity, suicide awareness, mental health, faith, queerness and healing.

“Poetry is a nice way to connect with people and talk about healing without rushing the process, without being too overwhelming. It’s a great storytelling and community-building tool,” they said.

Williams majored in English and social work at ECU. Two degrees were appealing because it allowed them to pursue writing and art while also working with people and being of service, they said. Williams also built performance skills while competing in slam poetry contests with the team Word of Mouth, placing in the top 20 at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in 2015.

Williams is originally from Greensboro, and after graduating from ECU in 2017, sought some time away from North Carolina. They pursued a master’s degree in social work with a certificate in applied arts and social justice from the University of New England, and Maine became a second home.

By day, Williams has a full-time job with MaineTransNet as a sexual assault program coordinator. They also teach and perform poetry. As Portland’s poet laureate, they plan to develop a database of transgender artists, and start a workshop series showing how poetry intersects with emotional well-being, gender identity, visual art and racial identity through spoken word. They also want to create a suicide awareness event called “What Do You Stay Alive For?” in which participants share art, stories and resources.

“I hope others get out of my work a sense of connection, whether they have similar experiences as me or not,” Williams said. “I hope my work is able to advocate for others and encourage them to do the same.”

Williams was inaugurated as poet laurate on July 1 and will serve in the position for two to three years.


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