Chapel Hill's new poet laureate Cortland Gilliam hopes to amplify suppressed voices and educate young members of the community.
Gilliam's objectives as poet laureate include highlighting the voices of marginalized people and honoring the local community that has supported him through his time as a graduate student and doctoral candidate at UNC.
“I want to do some kind of historical narrative poetry, where I'm kind of talking about the history of the town, and individuals of the town's history that have had in many ways helped make the town for what it is, but without receiving any kind of credit or recognition,” he said.
Gilliam said some of his major inspirations to become a serious poet include local artist and activist Jerry Wilson, Piedmont Laureate Dasan Ahanu and former poet laureate of Chapel Hill CJ Suitt.
Gilliam worked extensively with Wilson on a piece titled "Black Out Loud," presented by The Center for the Study of the American South. This collaborative art exhibition and documentary-style short film detailed the experiences of Black students at UNC, a predominantly white institution.
Gilliam is also on the board of directors at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, a non-profit organization committed to preserving historically Black neighborhoods in Chapel Hill.
“I'm accountable to the Black community that has supported me during my time as a graduate student here, that's brought me into spaces and has loved me and fueled me and breathed life into me,” he said.
As an educator, Gilliam is eager to engage with the younger members of the community. Fostering environments where storytelling and poetry are used to encourage youth to contribute different ideas and showcase their talents is also a priority of his.
In conjunction with Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, Gilliam plans to establish a youth poetry series comprising of poetry workshops, spoken word open-mic nights, and other creative gatherings for young people.