Date March 4, 2024
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Brown University literary arts professor named Rhode Island poet laureate

Appointed by the governor, Colin Channer looks forward to expanding opportunities for writers and enabling more literary experiences for Rhode Islanders, including K-12 students, during his five-year term.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Colin Channer, a Brown University associate professor and accomplished author of fiction and poetry, has earned a new role: official state poet.

Channer, whose acclaimed work includes poems in dialogue with images of Providence under flood in 1954 and 1938, was appointed the state's 7th poet laureate this month by Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee. He’ll serve a five-year term.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Channer moved to the United States at age 19, settling in New York before eventually moving to Rhode Island. He is the author of several works of fiction, including the novel “Waiting in Vain,” the novella “The Girl with the Golden Shoes” and a short story collection, titled “Passing Through,” as well as two books of poetry: “Providential” and “Console.”

“ One of the reasons why the state has been inspiring to me is the landscape, especially the ocean. There’s something about the ocean that has inspired the imagination of poets for thousands of years. ”

Colin Channer

Published last year, “Console” was named a New Yorker Magazine “Best Book of 2023” and was a finalist for the New England Book Award.

Channer is the director of graduate studies in Brown’s Department of Literary Arts. He has taught at Brown since 2016 and is also the co-founder of the nonprofit Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica.

In a Q&A, Channer discussed the appointment and his plans as poet laureate. 

What was your reaction to learning that you’re the state’s new poet laureate?

I was surprised, and I was gratified and honored. There’s an additional special honor in it for me because the first two state poets of Rhode Island, Michael Harper and C.D. Wright, who are no longer with us, were in my own department, the Department of Literary Arts at Brown. So, I’m picking up a tradition.

What does the role of state poet entail?

The state poet is an ambassador for poetry, and literature in general, around the state. Each state poet crafts the position in their own way. One of the things you’re obligated to do is write the inaugural poem for the installation of the new governor, which is quite an honor.

What are you hoping to bring to the role?

I’d like to create events that will give members of the public, as well K-12 students, an up-close-and-personal experience with literature. I’m looking forward to creating more opportunities for writers from diverse points of view to present their work here in Rhode Island, widening the pathways for more writers and producing more public literary events.

Why should the public care about poetry?

Poetry is a way to slow down the mind. It puts people in intimate touch with themselves and with others. We live in an era where there’s so much concern about how we’re wedded to our devices, and social media is constantly bombarding us with calls to engage, engage, engage. Reading and writing poetry is an opportunity to go inward into the self in a way that builds empathy for others. If I can imagine myself in your shoes, through poetry, that allows me to fully consider your humanity.

Is Rhode Island a fertile place for writing poetry?

Yes, and it has been especially fertile for me. I wrote my two books of poetry after I moved to Rhode Island, and they engage Rhode Island as part of a larger international literary imagination. One of the reasons why the state has been inspiring to me is the landscape, especially the ocean. There’s something about the ocean that has inspired the imagination of poets for thousands of years. That meeting of land and sea, as well as the color of the ocean, draws something out of writers. The quality of light here encourages painting, and it also stimulates poetry. Also, the immigrant experience in Rhode Island has created an exciting food culture, which is a topic that often engages poets.

Has being part of the Brown community influenced you as a writer?

Yes. I am constantly amazed by the brilliance of my colleagues and my students. The Open Curriculum at Brown creates a context where students are coming into the literary arts courses with such diverse backgrounds, from biology and economics to engineering, which inspires me. And I am grateful to Brown for supporting my work. I wrote my latest book, “Console,” with the support of the Henry Merritt Wriston Fellowship from the University. Also, the programming on campus through the Brown Arts Institute brings the best of the world here to Providence, which is incredibly beneficial to me as an artist.