Local author and professor Octavio Quintanilla will serve as San Antonio’s fourth Poet Laureate for a two-year term from 2018-20, the City announced Tuesday.
The first male to hold the position, Quintanilla is tasked with “[generating] public interest in and preserving the art of poetry, while celebrating the culture and history of San Antonio,” the first major city in Texas to recognize and appoint a Poet Laureate.
“Since I’ve been here all I have done is my best to promote the literary community and that writers that live here,” Quintanilla told the Rivard Report. “[As Poet Laureate] I am planning to do what I do now, which is promoting literacy, promoting community, and promoting poetry.”
Quintanilla, who is a native of Harlingen and lived in Mexico until he was 9, has lived in San Antonio for five years and declares himself “a proud San Antonian now.” He has been an assistant professor at Our Lady of the Lake University since 2013, where he currently teaches masters-level literature and creative writing, and has served on advisory committees for the San Antonio Book Festival, Luminaria, and Zoeglossia: Retreat for Writers with Disabilities.
He is also the South Texas regional editor for Texas Books in Review and serves on the peer review board for the Southwestern American Literature publication from the Center for the Study of the Southwest, both initiatives out of Texas State University in San Marcos.
He earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from the University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg, and graduated in 2010 with a doctorate degree in literature and creative writing from the University of North Texas in Denton.
Quintanilla said that people get excited about poetry because it is “something that is in us all,” and “something we all grew up with,” by way of listening to stories told by parents and grandparents.
“Hearing someone talk, hearing someone tell their story – that is poetry.”
Quintanilla joins previous Poet Laureates Carmen Tafolla, Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Jenny Browne, who all went on to become poets laureate of Texas after serving their posts in San Antonio.
“I feel honored to follow in the footsteps of three women who are amazing people, amazing writers, and amazing poets,” Quintanilla said. “I am excited about continuing aspects of the work that they have done, which is celebrating poetry and bringing it to the tables of others.”
While Quintanilla says it is too soon to speak to specific projects or initiatives that might take place during his tenure, his ultimate goal will be to make poetry more visible to communities that have less access, including schools and juvenile detention centers.
The poet laureate program was established in 2012 under then-Mayor Julián Castro. A panel of U.S. writers reviews the nominations, then recommends one for appointment by the mayor.
“As a world class city, San Antonio supports and fosters its creative and artistic communities – especially the many individuals who have committed their lives and work to preserving our city’s cultural legacy,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a press release Tuesday. “Octavio is one of those committed individuals, and the City of San Antonio is proud to have him serve as our new Poet Laureate and promote the importance of literary arts in the community.”
San Antonio will join communities across the U.S. in celebrating National Poetry Month in April. Nirenberg and the City’s Department of Arts and Culture will host a public ceremony in City Council chambers to make the official appointment on April 3.