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August 07, 2023 (August 22, 2023)

National Gallery of Art Celebrates the Art of Poetry in a Program Led by US Poet Laureate Ada Limón

Mwangi Hutter, "Ours To Hold And Caress And Cherish"

Mwangi Hutter, Ours To Hold And Caress And Cherish, 2017, acrylic and diluted chalk on canvas, Gift of Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC, 2020.116.2

Washington, DC–The National Gallery of Art’s 2023 John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art and Community Celebration, “Poetry is a country,” will bring celebrated poets from across the nation together to premiere original poetry inspired by works in our collection. These free, annual events will take place on Saturday, September 23, and will open with a keynote address by Ada Limón, the 24th US Poet Laureate, who was reappointed for a historic two-year second term earlier this year.

The participating poets—Jason Reynolds, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ilya Kaminsky, Jorie Graham, Heid E. Erdrich, Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Victoria Chang, and Hanif Abdurraqib—will perform their new works both in East Building galleries by the works of art that inspired them and in our East Building Auditorium. Readings will occur between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Only those in the East Building Auditorium require registration, and all works discussed there are also on view in the galleries.

A parallel series of interactive, drop-in activities will be offered in the East Building galleries, open to all ages and interests throughout the day. Programs will include 20-minute poetry-writing workshops and poetry-inspired artmaking led by local artists and educators; haiku customized by typewriter poets drawing upon visitor discoveries and observations; and a poetry exhibition in our library.

“We are excited to watch our museum come alive with poetry as we explore our collection in a new way—through the work of renowned, living American poets,” said Damon Reaves, head of education at the National Gallery of Art. “Art transcends time and place, and this edition of our annual Wilmerding Symposium is yet another example of that, of art in multiple forms, created by people of varying backgrounds and able to be appreciated by anyone, in Washington and throughout the country and the world.”

The poems will be available before the symposium and videos of most of the readings will be on our website afterward.

Schedule of Events

Poetry in the East Building Auditorium

Keynote Address: Ada Limón on Andy Goldsworthy’s Roof, 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Break, 12:00–1:30 p.m.

Ilya Kaminsky on Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man II, 1:30–2:00 p.m.

Jason Reynolds on Gordon Parks’s Washington, D.C. Government Charwoman (American Gothic), 2:00–3:00 p.m.

Naomi Shihab Nye on Max Beckmann’s Falling Man, 3:00–3:30 p.m.

Jorie Graham on Edouard Vuillard, 3:30–4:00 p.m. (pre-recorded performance)

Poetry in the Galleries

Hanif Abdurraqib on Mwangi Hutter’s Ours To Hold And Caress And Cherish, East Building Mezzanine Terrace, 1:15 and 2:30 p.m.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis on Alexander Calder’s Little Spider, East Building Tower, gallery 606, 1:30 and 2:15 p.m.

Victoria Chang on Anne Truitt’s Mid Day, East Building Mezzanine Terrace, 1:45 and 3:00 p.m.

Heid E. Erdrich on Amedeo Modigliani’s Roma Woman with Baby, East Building Ground Floor, gallery 103A, 2:00 and 2:45 p.m.

About the Poets

Hanif Abdurraqib, poet, essayist, cultural critic, and contributing writer for the New Yorker

Hanif Abdurraqib’s poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism have been published in The Fader, Pitchfork,the New Yorker, and the New York Times. His first full-length poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was released in June 2016 from Button Poetry. His first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was released in winter 2017 by Two Dollar Radio and was named a book of the year by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Paste, CBC, Pitchfork, the Los Angeles Review,and  the Chicago Tribune, among others. He released Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest with University of Texas Press in February 2019. The book became a New York Times bestseller, was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize, and was long-listed for the National Book Award. Abdurraqib’s second collection of poems, A Fortune for Your Disaster, was released in 2019 by Tin House and won the 2020 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. In 2021, he released the book A Little Devil in America with Random House, which won the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and the Gordon Burn Prize. Abdurraqib is a graduate of Beechcroft High School in Columbus, Ohio. 

Victoria Chang, Bourne Chair of Poetry at Georgia Tech, director of Poetry@Tech, and poetry editor of the New York Times Magazine (2022–2023)

Victoria Chang’s forthcoming book of poems, With My Back to the World, will be published in 2024 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and Corsair Books in the UK. Her most recent book of poetry, The Trees Witness Everything, was published by Copper Canyon Press and Corsair Books in the UK in 2022 and was named one of the Best Books of 2022 by the New Yorker and The Guardian. Her nonfiction book, Dear Memory (Milkweed Editions), was published in 2021 and was named a favorite nonfiction book of 2021 by Electric Literature and Kirkus. Obit (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), another recent poetry book, was named a New York Times Notable Book, a TIME Must-Read Book, and received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Poetry, and the PEN/Voelcker Award. Chang is also a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Chowdhury Prize in Literature.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis, poetry coordinator, Folger Shakespeare Library

Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of a more perfect Union, winner of the 2019 Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize (Mad Creek Books, 2021) and Haint, winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry (Gival Press, 2021). She is the 2020 winner of the Poetry Society of America’s (PSA) Robert H. Winner Memorial Award and a finalist for the PSA’s George Bogin Memorial Award. She is the recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts Grant and a Meret Grant from the Freya Project. A Cave Canem fellow, Davis has been awarded scholarships, residencies, and fellowships to attend the Community of Writers Workshop, Hedgebrook, the Soul Mountain Writer’s Retreat, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Hermitage Artist Retreat, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. 

Heid E. Erdrich, educator, curator, interdisciplinary artist, and guest curator at the Mead Art Museum of Amherst College

Heid E. Erdrich was born in 1963 in Breckenridge, Minnesota, grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, and is Ojibwe enrolled at Turtle Mountain. Erdrich is the author of numerous collections, including Little Big Bully (Penguin, 2020), Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media (Michigan State University Press, 2017) and four others, as well as the forthcoming Verb Animate. Little Big Bully won the 2022 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress and the 2021 Balcones Poetry Prize. Erdrich is also the regional editor for When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through (Norton, 2021), an anthology of Native American poetry edited by Joy Harjo; the editor of New Poets of Native Nations (Graywolf Press, 2018); and coeditor of Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002). She has received two Minnesota Book Awards, as well as fellowships and awards from the National Poetry Series, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, Bush Foundation, Loft Literary Center, First People’s Fund, and others. Erdrich served as literary curator for the traveling exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artist and guest curator for Boundless, an exhibition of images and text at Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum (on view September 12, 2023–January 7, 2024). She received a BA from Dartmouth College, two MA degrees from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and a PhD from the Union Institute.

Jorie Graham, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, Harvard University

Jorie Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including To 2040; [To] The Last [Be] Human, which collects four poetry collections—Sea Change, Place, Fast, and Runaway; From the New World: Poems 1976–2014; Place, winner of the Forward Prize in 2012; and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974–1994, winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her other poetry collections include Overlord, Never, Swarm, The Errancy, Materialism, Region of Unlikeness, The End of Beauty, Erosion, and Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts. She served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1997–2003) and has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language and Best American Poetry 1990. She serves as the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University, the first woman to be named to the position.

Ilya Kaminsky, professor of creative writing, Princeton University

Ilya Kaminsky is the author of the widely acclaimed Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019), a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry. He is also the author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), and Musica Humana (Chapiteau Press, 2002). Kaminsky has won the Whiting Writer’s Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the Dorset Prize, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and Foreword magazine’s Best Poetry Book of the Year. Kaminsky was born in the former Soviet Union city of Odessa. He lost most of his hearing at the age of four after a doctor misdiagnosed mumps as a cold. His family was granted political asylum by the United States in 1993, and settled in Rochester, New York. After his father’s death in 1994, Kaminsky began to write poems in English. In January 2023, Kaminsky was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.

Ada Limón, 24th Poet Laureate of the United States

Ada Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Her book Bright Dead Things was nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Her work has most recently been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship. She grew up in Sonoma, California, and now lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where she writes, teaches remotely, and hosted the critically acclaimed poetry podcast The Slowdown. Her latest book of poetry, The Hurting Kind, was long-listed for the Brooklyn Public Library Book Prize and 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize. NASA recently commissioned Limón to craft a new poem that was engraved on the Europa Clipper spacecraft, which will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in October 2024. Serving as the 24th US Poet Laureate since July 2022, Limón was appointed for a historic second term (for two years, September 2023–April 2025).

Naomi Shihab Nye, essayist, educator, and professor of creative writing, Texas State University

Naomi Shihab Nye has spent more than 40 years traveling the country and the world to lead writing workshops and inspiring students of all ages. Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio. Nye is the author or editor of more than 30 volumes and the recipient of several fellowships and awards, including the Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. She served as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (2010–2015), poetry editor for New York Times Magazine (2019–2020), and the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate (2019–2022).

Jason Reynolds, 2020–2022 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, New York Times bestselling author, and faculty member for the Writing for Young People MFA Program at Lesley University

Jason Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author (no. 1); an honoree for a Newbery Award and a Printz Award; a two-time National Book Award finalist; winner of a Kirkus Award, a Carnegie Medal, a Walter Dean Myers Award (twice), and an NAACP Image Award; and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. His many books include Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks; When I Was the Greatest; The Boy in the Black Suit; As Brave as You; For Every One; the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu); All American Boys (with Brendan Kiely); Long Way Down; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (with Ibram X. Kendi); Stuntboy, in the Meantime (illustrated by Raúl the Third); and with artwork by Jason Griffin Ain’t Burned All the Bright and My Name Is Jason. Mine Too. Reynolds is also the 2020–2022 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He lives in Washington, DC. You can find his ramblings at

About the John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art and Community Celebration

The John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art and Community Celebration are made possible by a grant from the Alice L. Walton Foundation. Named for the National Gallery’s retired curator, deputy director, trustee, chairman, and one of the nation’s leading scholars in American art, the annual symposium and weekend celebration explore a topic related to American art.

In 2022, the Wilmerding Symposium was held in conjunction with the National Gallery’s Afro-Atlantic Histories exhibition. In 2021, the citywide celebration honored the legacy of pioneering artist Alma Thomas and was introduced by former First Lady Michelle Obama. In 2020 the Wilmerding Symposium was held as a virtual tribute to the late David C. Driskell and featured scholars Valerie Cassel Oliver, Julie L. McGee, and Alvia J. Wardlaw, as well as artists Lyle Ashton Harris, Curlee Raven Holton, Keith Morrison, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Jefferson Pinder, Frank Stewart, and Carrie Mae Weems.

Contact Information

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