Sonia-Wallace appointed city’s next poet laureate

Independent Staff Report

WEST HOLLYWOOD — The City Council has appointed Brian Sonia-Wallace as the next city poet laureate.

Sonia-Wallace was selected at the council’s Oct. 19 meeting through an application process with a selection committee comprised of current and former city poet laureates and staff members from the West Hollywood Library and City Hall.

The poet laureate serves as an ambassador to West Hollywood’s literary culture and leads the promotion of poetry in the city, including its annual celebration of National Poetry Month. During the two-year appointment, the poet laureate will create a new poem each year commemorating the uniqueness and dynamism of West Hollywood.

Since the 2014 season of the city’s WeHo Reads program, Sonia-Wallace has been writing poems for strangers and neighbors on the streets of West Hollywood and at city events. A social practice poet straddling the lines between literature and community engagement, his 2020 debut from Harper Collins, “The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America With a Typewriter,” was lauded as “full of optimism and wide-eyed wonder” by the New York Times.

His writing has been published in the Guardian and Rolling Stone, and he teaches creative writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and Get Lit – Words Ignite. In 2019, Sonia-Wallace received a grant from the city’s One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival to create Pride Poets, a project that brought poets on typewriters to the streets of West Hollywood to create over 700 original works based on one-on-one interactions, and in 2020 brought together over 100 LGBTQ+ poets for virtual shows during the COVID-19 quarantine.

The motto of his company, RENT Poet (as featured on NPR’s “How I Built This”), is “everyone needs a poem.” He also has an intriguing resume of past projects with public interactions, including being artist-in-residence or writer-in-residence for the Mall of America, Amtrak, Dollar Shave Club, the city of Los Angeles and Boston Harbor Islands National Park.

Sonia-Wallace succeeds Charles Flowers, the city’s third poet laureate. Previous poet laureates include Kim Dower (2016-18) and Steven Reigns, (2014-16).