Programs poet laureate
Juan Felipe Herrera
Juan Felipe Herrera
Appointed March 21, 2012

The California Poet Laureate is a Governor's appointee whose mission is to advocate for the art of poetry in classrooms and boardrooms across the state, to inspire an emerging generation of literary artists, and to educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced our great state through creative literary expression.

Over the course of a two-year term, the Poet Laureate provides six public readings in urban and rural locations across California, educates civic and state leaders about the value of poetry and creative expression, and undertakes a significant cultural project, with one of its goals being to bring poetry to students who might otherwise have little opportunity to be exposed.

the 21st century


The position of California Poet Laureate was established as a part of the California Government Code in 2001 through AB 113 authored by Assemblymember Fran Pavley. Through this bill, the California Arts Council is designated to recommend individuals to the Governor for the position of the state's Poet Laureate. The Governor chooses the poet, and Senate approves the appointment. Under this law, the Poet Laureate no longer holds the title for life as in the last century, but instead serves a two-year term (depending on confirmation date by the Senate) and is limited to two terms.

In 2002, Governor Gray Davis appointed Quincy T. Troupe as California's first official Poet Laureate. Troupe served briefly without Senate confirmation. In 2005, Al Young was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and confirmed by the Senate in March of 2006. He completed his appointment in August 2008. More on Young.

Having served until September 2011, USC Professor Carol Muske-Dukes is the most recent California Poet Laureate. She was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in November 2008. See: Carol Muske-Dukes.


beyond california


California's poets are among the most prestigious in the nation. They have received numerous significant awards including Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and some have served as United States' Poets Laureate, such as San Francisco native Robert Haas and Robert Pinsky, who attended Stanford University. California's poets have provided a great source of inspiration to their communities, students, and the people of California.

california arts council's role


The California Arts Council manages the nomination process for the California Poet Laureate as established by law. After a call to the general public for nominations, electronic applications are reviewed by a panel of knowledgeable and experienced California poets who are identified in consultation with representatives of literary organizations, universities, and other experts in the field. The panelists review all applications and narrow the number to 15 - 25. Subsequently, the panelists meet in person, evaluate the top applications, and rank them according to the review criteria. The names of the top three applicants are sent to the Governor's office for additional vetting. The Governor makes the final selection and names the California Poet Laureate, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

Review criteria for Poet Laureate

  • recognized for excellence of their work;
  • known for a significant body of published work;
  • widely considered to be a poet of stature; and
  • willing to undertake a specific project that shall last through the term, agreed to by the California Poet Laureate and the Arts Council.


Past California Poets Laureate

1915 - 1928  Ina Donna Coolbrith
1929 - 1931  Dr. Henry Meade Bland
1933 - 1944  John Steven McGroarty
1953 - 1961  Gordon W. Norris
1966 - 2000  Charles Garrigus
2005 - 2008  Al Young
2008 - 2011  Carol Muske-Dukes

early history of
california poets laureate


At the beginning of the 20th century, California lawmakers recognized the importance of having a state Poet Laureate and Governor Hiram Warren Johnson appointed Ina Donna Coolbrith as the first honorary California Poet Laureate on June 30, 1915. Coolbrith was later acknowledged as the "Loved Laurel-Crowned Poet of California" by a 1919 state Senate resolution, and she retained the title until her death in 1928. More on Coolbrith.

The state Senate gave the Laureate title to English professor Dr. Henry Meade Bland in 1929. He served until his death in 1931. In 1933, lawmakers recognized poet John Steven McGroarty, who was also a playwright, historian, Los Angeles Times writer, presidential candidate, and member of Congress from southern California (1935 -1939). See Journal of San Diego History for an article on McGroatry.

The next writer to be honored with the title was Gordon W. Norris, appointed in 1953; he served until his death in 1961. Norris was followed by Charles Garrigus, a member of the California legislature who was recognized by his colleagues in 1966 and served until 2000. Both of these appointments were made through resolutions of the state legislature. More history of the honorary Poets Laureate of California: Metro Active.