Governor names second consecutive University grad state poet laureate


John Warner Smith is the second University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduate in a row designated Louisiana Poet Laureate.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards recently selected Smith for a two-year term.

He succeeds UL Lafayette graduate Jack Bedell, who Edwards designated state poet laureate in 2017. Darrell Bourque, a professor emeritus of English at UL Lafayette, was named poet laureate in 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco; Bourque was reappointed in 2009 by Gov. Bobby Jindal and served until 2011.

Smith is the first African-American man appointed Louisiana Poet Laureate. He will act as a literary ambassador, giving lectures and poetry readings, and conducting workshops across the state.

Smith, a professor of English at Southern University in Baton Rouge, is the author of four collections of poetry, including “Spirits of the Gods,” which was published by UL Press in 2017.

“John Warner Smith's writing captures the human experience through meaningful, passionate poetry that moves your emotions. John is not only a talented and gifted poet, he is a trailblazer who devotes himself to education and the greater good of the community,”

Edwards said in a press release from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.

Smith began writing poetry while working as a public administrator and a banker.

“Poetry found me long before I realized that I was a poet, even as I pursued other career interests,” Smith said. “The journey has been quite fulfilling, and I feel blessed to be a vessel in that sense. As an African-American writer, my perspectives are not unique, butI do portray the human condition in a different and somewhat important light, particularly of history and personal experience.”

Since 2007, he has directed Education’s Next Horizon, a non-profit policy advocacy organization dedicated to improving public education in Louisiana.

He earned an MFA from the University of New Orleans, an MBA from UL Lafayette in 1986, and bachelor’s degrees in psychology and accounting from McNeese State University.