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Madison Poet Laureate

The Madison Poet Laureate is an honorary position that nurtures the Madison poetry community . Madison is one of the first cities in the nation to have a Poet Laureate, reflecting our deep historical investment in the literary arts. The Poet Laureate leads the Poetry in Common Council series, the Bus Lines project, and mentors the City of Madison Youth Poet Laureate.

Program History
In 1977 Mayor Paul Soglin honored the first Poet Laureate. The role continues today, and honorees include:

  • 1977-2000: John Tuschen
  • 2000-2007: Andrea Musher. Musher supported the passing of a resolution to officially recognize the role, which was passed at the January 8, 2008 Madison Common Council Meeting.
  • 2008-2011: Fabu
  • 2012-2015: Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman
  • 2015-2020: Oscar Mireles
  • 2020-2024: Angela Trudell Vasquez

Current Madison Poet Laureate
Steven Espada Dawson is from East Los Angeles. The son of a Mexican immigrant, he is a former Ruth Lilly Fellow and Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellow. He has served as a poetry editor for Copper Nickel and Sycamore Review and has taught creative writing at universities, libraries, and prisons across the country. His poems appear in many journals and have been anthologized in Best New Poets, Pushcart Prize, and Sarabande’s Another Last Call. Learn more about Steven on his website

Email to contact the current Poet Laureate. 
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Bus Lines

Bus Lines, a signature project of the Madison Poet Laureate program, was started in 2009 by then Poet Laureate Fabu. This program creates an opportunity for Madison residents to display their poems on Metro Transit buses and brings poetry before city residents in a creative way. Initially the program was open exclusively to high school students, but eventually it was opened up to all Madison Residents. Short poems are arranged into artful designs and displayed on busses that traverse Madison.
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Poetry at Common Council

Watch poetry at Common Council readings.  

Madison's Poets Laureate, or a poet they invite, occasionally open Common Council with a poem. This act reinforces a mood of civility in discourse. Reading a poem prior to the meeting acknowledges and reminds us of the complexities of experience, language, and truth, heightening everyone's consciousness of the potency of their words.

The performance of the poem in the atmosphere of the council meeting, where our local elected officials make decisions that determine our daily lives, our landscape, and our children's future, is symbolic of the openness and acceptance necessary to our democratic process.

In performing a poem, the poet makes themselves vulnerable, as do all residents who speak at our city council meetings. Council members are, in the moment of the reading, the poet's audience. Alderpersons offer their full attention to the poet in open-minded contemplation. For the duration of the reading, daily activity and political discourse are suspended, to make a space for another form of interaction and mutual meaning making. This simple gesture and the ideal human relationship it represents establishes an elevated atmosphere for the meeting to come.
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Youth Poet Laureate

In 2022, Poet Laureate Angela Trudell Vasquez launched the Madison Youth Poet Laureate Program, the first of it's kind in Wisconsin. Part of the National Youth Poet Laureate program, we honor talented young poets and provide them with opportunities to showcase their literary art.

The Madison Youth Poet Laureate serves for one year, and is expected to give three public readings with the current Madison Poet Laureate during that time. Additionally, the Youth Poet Laureate has the opportunity to apply for the National Youth Poet Laureate role each fall.

Applications for the 2024-2025 Madison Youth Poet Laureate opened on May 7, 2024, and close June 7, 2024. To be eligible, applicants must be between the ages of 13 and 19 at the time of selection and must reside within the City of Madison.

People interested in applying to become the Madison Youth Poet Laureate can apply online.

Applicants are required to attend and read one of their submitted poems at the Madison Arts Commission meeting on June 11, 2024 at 5:30 PM. The winner will be announced in July.

The National Youth Poet Laureate Program works with local arts organization across the United States to elevate youth voices that are committed to artistic excellence, civic engagement and social impact. The National Youth Poet Laureate Program is supported by the academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Parks Service, and many more, and is an initiative of Urban Word NYC, Inc., an award-winning youth literary arts and youth development organization.

A circle of light blue with a black cross in the center that symbolizes the four lakes (Mendota, Monona, Wingra and Waubesa). In the center of the black cross is a gold circle symbolizes the dome of the State Capitol. The bottom of the cross morphs into a pen nib, representing writers. Above the circle is the word Madison in light blue, and below the circle is Youth Poet Laureate in light grey.Urban Word logo in purple and yellowYouth Poet Laureate Logo


2023 Madison Youth Poet Luareate Madeleine Bohn is pictured wearing an orange sweater over a black shirt with her brown hair in a braid down her shoulder.


2022-2023 Madision Youth Poet Laureate: Madeleine Bohn 

Madeleine Bohn was announced as the first ever Madison Youth Poet Laureate at a celebratory ceremony on July 13, 2022 at the Madison Central Library. 14-year-old Madeleine Bohn entered the 9th grade at West High School in the fall of 2022.


202 Madison Poet Laureate Maliha Nu'Man in a print long sleeve button up shirt against aa grey backdrop.


2023-24 Madison Youth Poet Laureate: Maliha Nu'Man

Maliha Nu'Man was announced as the second Madison Youth Poet Laureate at a celebratory ceremony at Pinney Library on June 15, 2023. Maliha Nu’Man will enter her sophomore year at West High School in fall of 2023. At aged 14, Nu’Man self-published her first book, Photograph, which can be found on Amazon. 
Last Updated: 07/18/2024


Madison Arts Commission
Madison Municipal Building
Department of Planning & Community & Economic Development
215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Suite 017
P.O. Box 2985
Madison, WI 53701-2985

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