Celebrating National Poetry Month

To celebrate National Poetry Month, Texas Book Festival honors the genre and the occasion by spotlighting Amanda Johnston. Johnston is the 2024 Texas Poet Laureate and founder of Torch Literary Arts, a nonprofit organization established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women with whom TBF partners during Festival weekend. We spoke with Johnston about the significance of this month.

TBF: What are some ways that folks can engage with poetry this month or at any time?

AJ: Read poetry. Listen to poetry. Share a poem. Write a poem. Poetry is all around us and can offer a moment of stillness and wonder in a fast-paced world. Visit and bookmark these sites for great poems all year: Poets.org, PoetryFoundation.org, Poems.com, and TorchLiteraryArts.org.

TBF: What are some misconceptions about poetry that should be demystified?

AJ: That poetry is hard to understand. As infants, we learn how to communicate through poetry and songs uniquely tuned to our body’s natural rhythms. Your favorite song is just a poem you sing out loud. Understanding comes with feeling. Read a poem and let your heart sing.

TBF: What does it mean to you to be the 2024 Texas State Poet Laureate?

AJ: I’m honored! As the first Black woman to hold this position, I hope other Black and BIPOC women see that it is possible and are inspired to keep writing. I look forward to amplifying the voices of others and celebrating the joy and power of poetry across the state.

TBF: Can you tell us about Torch Literary Arts and some ways that folks might engage with and support your organization or other organizations with similar missions?

AJ: Torch Literary Arts is a 501c3 nonprofit that supports Black women writers. As a Black woman writer, I founded Torch in 2006 to create a space for us by us that centers and celebrates our work and creative lives. Torch’s award-winning online publication, Torch Magazine, features poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and script (plays and screenplays). Our programs include the Wildfire Reading Series that features local and national authors, creative writing and professional development workshops, the Torch Retreat for Black women writers with works-in-progress, and special events like The Salon at Antone’s and readings and panels with the Texas Book Festival. All of our features are paid and our programs are provided at low or no cost. As a charitable organization, the community is our lifeblood. Read Torch Magazine online (it’s free!), join us at our events, and donate if you can to support Black women writers from across the diaspora.

We Carry the Torch, by Amanda Johnston.

Amanda Johnston is a writer and artist. She was born in East St. Louis, IL, and was raised in Austin, TX. She began writing poetry while living in Kentucky. Her writing is published widely, and she has presented at numerous literary conferences and events.

She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine. She is the author of two chapbooks, GUAP and Lock & Key, and the full-length collection Another Way to Say Enter. Her work has appeared in numerous online and print publications, among them, Callaloo, Poetry Magazine, Puerto del Sol, Muzzle, and the anthologies, Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry and Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism. She has received fellowships, grants, and awards from Cave Canem, Hedgebrook, Tasajillo, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Watermill Center, and the Austin International Poetry Festival. She is a former Board President of Cave Canem Foundation, a member of the Affrilachian Poets, cofounder of Black Poets Speak Out, and founder of Torch Literary Arts. 

Learn more at amandajohnston.com.