Poet Laureate Task Force
Members of the Poet Laureate task force select the poet laureate for the City of St. Louis
2018 Task force Members
Cheryl D.S. Walker, Chair
Cheryl D.S. Walker is a native St. Louisan and practices law with Riley, Safer, Holmes & Cancila. She writes poetry for peace and inner-attainment. Her poetry chapbook Silence Isn’t Quiet was published by River King Poetry Press. Cheryl's works have appeared in Mischief, Caprice and other Poetic Strategies (Red Hen Press), Kansas City Voices (Whispering Prairie Press), Break Word With The World (Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville), Drumvoices Revue (Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville), St. Louis Muse (St. Louis Urban League), and When the Lions Roar (Washington University). The St. Louis Women’s Chorale and the Equinox Chamber Players, under the direction of Scott Schoonover, performed and recorded A Love Supreme, a poem written by Cheryl for which Dr. Barbara Harbach composed chorale and chamber music.
Cheryl has curated and been a featured poet for several literary events, including, Higher Ground: Honoring Washington Park Cemetery (Sheldon Art Galleries), Poetry for Peace (Sheldon Art Galleries), Without Sanctuary (St. Louis Public Library), Women in the Arts (St. Louis Art Museum/Regional Arts Commission), and Navigating the Mainstream: Collecting, Presenting, and Interpreting African and African American Art (Saint Louis Art Museum and Contemporary Art Museum).
Jill A. McGuire
McGuire founded and led the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), the St. Louis region's largest arts agency, for 30 years. She has been recognized for her leadership, arts advocacy and creative approaches to grantmaking and leadership in the public sector, having distributed more than 7000 grants, totaling over $93 million.
In 2003, McGuire opened the RAC Cultural Resource Center, a 20,000 square foot facility, housing administrative offices, a gallery, performance and rehearsal space and flexible meeting space for the arts community. Her other major accomplishments include: developing grants for individual artists, including $20,000 fellowships, as well as smaller support grants to artists; extensively promoting the economic impact of the arts and their importance to St. Louis; promoting individual artists through public/private partnerships; hosting the first Community Arts Convening in the country; advocating for establishing the first percent for art program in the City of St. Louis; and establishing strong cultural diversity and freedom of expression policies for the Commission.
María Teresa Balogh (Marité) is an Associate Teaching Professor of Spanish, specializing in Latin American literature, diverse cultural special topics, and creative writing at the University of Missouri St. Louis. She joined the UMSL languages team in the fall of 2003.
She is also a bilingual, bicultural poet, fiction writer, Caribbean folkloric dancer, originally from Colombia. She has a book of poetry in Spanish by Ediciones Torremosas, a Spanish publisher based in Madrid, and a collection of poetry and fiction in English by Cool Way Press, based in St. Louis. Her fiction & poetry have been published in numerous journals from the USA and South America.
She has been many places and done a bit of everything, including a couple of tours with the Peace Corps. While being a Peace Corps Volunteer, she taught English in Mauritania, West Africa and trained rural people in Honduras in the management of water systems. She also participated in the supervision and construction of these rural water and sanitation projects.
Dwight Bitikofer has been involved in the St. Louis poetry community for a dozen or so years. He discovered the pleasure of open mic readings about that time. Bitikofer organizes “PoJazz” readings with local “spiritual jazz” performer Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II. He emcees a monthly open mic for St. Louis Writers Guild at the train station in Kirkwood. Bitikofer’s poems have appeared in Natural Bridge, Flood Stage, Mid-Rivers Review and Untamed Ink. He was the 2013 winner of St. Louis Poetry Center’s James H. Nash contest. Bitikofer has just begun a term as president of St. Louis Poetry Center. Professionally, Bitikofer is publisher of three community newspapers: Webster-Kirkwood Times, South County Times and West End Word.
Amy Hunter is the Manager of Diversity and Inclusion for St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She recently joined the organization after being the Director of Racial Justice for the St. Louis YWCA. Currently, she is charged with addressing internal and external health equity issues. Hunter has years of experience in the corporate, education, and nonprofit community. Her alliance and community building placed her in the unique position of credibility with the young people driving the demand for change, their elders in the civil rights movement, and even the "establishment". She was extremely active in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, the unrest in Ferguson, and the exposure of municipal and governmental impropriety. She is known for “The Talk” which was incorporated in her TEDx Talk “Lucky Zip Codes”.
She is published and has been seen on ABC, CNN, NBC and a host of other networks and heard on NPR and other media outlets. Amy has three sons and a daughter and currently is working on her Ph.D. in the field of critical race theory.
Zack Lesmeister is a first generation American, born and raised in Saint Louis. He enjoys long walks on the beach and deconstructing the gender binary. As a queer mixed poet, he focuses his efforts exploring racial and queer identities, and Vietnamese culture in America. In 2017, he led his high school slam team to the VerbQuake team finals. He went on to represent St. Louis at Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam Festival. In fall 2017, Zack was named the St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate. As captain of his poetry slam team, Zack’s team finished second in the VerbQuake Youth Poetry Slam Festival.
Rudy Nickens is Director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity for the Missouri Department of Transportation. For over three decades, he has consulted, educated, and trained hundreds of local, national, and international organizations in workforce diversity, leadership development, cultural competence and conflict resolution. He specializes in leading efforts to eliminate the effects of internalized racism. Rudy served as Director of Racial Equity for the Ferguson Commission, helping the commission through a year-long community engagement process that resulted in the formation of Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equality. Mr. Nickens has also served as Executive Director of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, the nation’s largest professional African-American theatre company.
Stefene Russell is St. Louis Magazine’s Culture Editor and the editor of SLM’s arts blog. She’s also a member of Poetry Scores, an arts collective dedicated to translating poetry into other media. In her past life, she was co-editor of 52nd City and Prinsesstårta literary magazines. Her work’s appeared in Public Art Review, The Curator, Gadfly, Otis Nebula, Bad Shoe, The Lumberyard, and LocusPoint. She’s read for Observable (including 2005’s infamous “Three Stephanies” reading), Get Born, River Styx’s Hungry Young Poets Series, HEARding Cats, Laumeier Sculpture Park’s Poetry in Place, The Archive, The Pulitzer Foundation for the Art’s Sound Waves series, and the fort gondo poetry series. She is also a former co-host of KDHX’s Literature for the Halibut..