Aris Kian Brown is named Houston’s Sixth Poet Laureate – and the youngest to be chosen

Aris Kian Brown and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner / Photo by Houston Mayor’s Office

Poet Aris Kian Brown says that her loves are language, communication, and community organizing. In her new role as Houston Poet Laureate, she will aim to combine those passions to serve Houstonians through teaching, special projects, and written and spoken verse.

“Poetry is a powerful tool to imagine new worlds for ourselves, and I’m excited for the opportunity to continue building narrative power in this city,” she said.

Brown, 25, was officially named Houston’s sixth and youngest Poet Laureate, in a reception last Thursday hosted by Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and Houston Public Library. She was selected through an application process by a committee of poets, scholars, literary experts, and community representatives, with final determination and appointment by the Mayor.

“It is an honor to have selected Aris as the next Poet Laureate,” said Mayor Turner in a statement. “She represents Houston’s literary future with her prophetic poetry. She will continue the Poet Laureates’ hard work before her, inspire the City of Houston with her words, and bring out the poetry in everyone.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Aris Kian Brown / Photo by Houston Mayor’s Office

Brown’s two-year term begins this month, in celebration of National Poetry Month, and runs through April 2025.  She succeeds poet Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean and continues the Houston Poet Laureate tradition, which was launched by Mayor Annise Parker in 2013 with Gwendolyn Zepeda as the city’s inaugural Poet Laureate.

Houston has one of the longest-running poet laureate programs among the five largest cities in the U.S. Los Angeles started its program in 2012, and Phoenix began appointing a Poet Laureate in 2016. Chicago will inaugurate a Poet Laureate this year, while New York does not have a Poet Laureate for the city as a whole – though four of its five boroughs have individual poet laureates, with the oldest program established in Brooklyn in 1979.  Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate program also continues to thrive, with poet Ariana Lee appointed as Brown’s teen counterpart last fall.

Ariana Lee, Houston Youth Poet Laureate, and Aris Kian Brown, Houston Poet Laureate / Photo courtesy of Ariana Lee

Brown received her MFA from the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. She won the 2022 Inprint Marion Barthelme Prize in Creative Writing for Students with Service to the Houston Literary Community, and recently earned the #2 rank at the 2023 Womxn of the World Poetry Slam. She also serves as the Narrative Change and Media Manager at Houston in Action.

Houston’s literary community reacted on social media with support and enthusiasm for Brown’s appointment – including local poets who expressed admiration for Brown’s writing.

“I love @rosewaterframes’s poetry! Congratulations on becoming the Houston poet laureate. Well deserved,” tweeted poet and translator Stalina Villarreal.

Poet Ayokunle Falomo wrote on social media: “Aris Kian Brown has been my (as well as the city’s) unofficial official poet laureate for so long. Glad it’s official official now! Lead us, Poet.”

Houston Arts Journal reached out to Brown for permission to print her poem, “Oh, Lola’s,” inspired by the Montrose neighborhood bar, Lola’s Depot:

Oh, Lola’s

You bumper sticker junkyard, jukebox bright,
blasting the pink-light anthem of a night

gone on too long. Slide my second sour ‘cross
the bar beneath the frilly B-cup bras

hanging like neon chandeliers. I’ll chug
down your year-round holiday at our snug

side table: string lights & sloped wooden bench,
still jacked from back-throat cackles. In moments

I think I missed out, I remember you,
backdrop to Polaroids snapped in the blue

hour with all the homies who held me well
after the flash. I ask too much of this hell-

swept city, and sometimes, beneath the ice
and maraschino cherries, it answers twice.

Aris Kian Brown

As Houston Poet Laureate, Brown will create and an implement a Community Outreach Project. She will also receive a $20,000 honorarium through the City Initiative Grant Program of the City of Houston, which is funded through the Hotel Occupancy Tax that is dedicated to the arts.

Brown’s project, entitled Space for Us: Afrofuturism and the Poetic Imagination, will involve conducting interviews with Houstonians and then stitching a poem from their answers – to highlight the poetry “already embedded in everyday people,” according to a press release. The finished poem will be translated into the top spoken languages in the city.  

“My community outreach project seeks to connect with Houstonians in different neighborhoods and learn about their relationship with this city,” said Brown. “I aim to work with community organizations and language justice experts and translation artists to consider how this initiative can be accessible to the communities that speak the various languages of this city besides English.”

“I want to honor the global hub and dynamic that is the love of my life: Houston, while also staying true to my imagination, which is rooted in abolition and Afrofuturism,” she added.

Aris Kian Brown, 2023-2025 Houston Poet Laureate / Photo by Houston Public Library

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