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Fairfax County’s second-ever poet laureate revealed by ArtsFairfax

Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill, Fairfax Poet Laureate Danielle Badra, and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay (courtesy AE Landes Photography)

Fairfax County has a new ambassador for poetry.

Danielle Badra will serve as the second Fairfax Poet Laureate through 2024, leading a program to bring poetry-related activities to local parks, ArtsFairfax shared yesterday.

Introduced by the arts agency in 2020, the poet laureate is intended to celebrate poetry and promote the art form to new audiences through a community service project and events. The title was first bestowed on “How to Prove a Theory” author Nicole Tong for the inaugural 2020-2022 term.

“The Fairfax Poet Laureate is a remarkable example of how support to a single artist can impact the whole County,” ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda S. Sullivan said in the news release. “Danielle’s vision to bring poetry to the parks is inspired, and we’re as excited to learn from her as we are thrilled to share her work with the Greater Fairfax community.”

Badra was selected by a six-person panel of Tong, Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri, Poetry Daily Managing Editor Gregg Wilhelm, Beltway Poetry Quarterly Editor Kim Roberts, Fall for the Book Festival Director Kara Oakleaf, and Anya Creightney, a programs specialist for the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center.

The panel considered applicants’ proposed community projects, their professional activities, and the artistic merit and impact of their work, according to Arts Fairfax.

“Grace Cavalieri emphasized that Dani’s style of poetry and delivery allows her to be vulnerable, warm, friendly, and accessible, which in turn helps her meet people where they are in their poetry journey whether they are new to the form or avid fans,” the agency told FFXnow.

A Clifton resident who works as a technical writer for the county’s Land Development Services, Badra sees the poet laureate position as an opportunity to share her love of poetry with the community.

“Poetry is one of those subjects that a lot of people learn in school and never want to learn again. And I want to change that,” she told FFXnow by email. “Poetry is inspirational, it is healing, it is empowering. I want to share that with the community.”

An ArtsFairfax spokesperson says that while the selection panel was aware that Badra had a county government job, it “was not a factor in their selection,” though they saw a “potential benefit of having representation of a poet who does not work in academia.”

Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Badra has published two collections: “Dialogue with the Dead,” which was published in 2015 and dealt with the loss of her sister, and “Like We Still Speak,” which won the 2021 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize, according to her website.

The $1,000 prize is awarded annually by the University of Arkansas to a writer of Arab heritage for their first or second book of poetry in English. Badra is of Syrian and Lebanese heritage.

She obtained a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Kalamazoo College and a master’s of fine arts degree from George Mason University. The latter program also counts Tong as an alum.

Badra told GMU that her “Poetry in the Parks” project reflects her enthusiasm for the outdoors and nature — a source of “poetic inspiration” for her.

“Poetry in the Parks looks to not only provide inspiration for creative expression but to also advocate for environmental stewardship,” Badra told FFXnow.

Her plans for the next two years include poetry readings, workshops, a “Poetry Beneath the Stars” event, and “poetry plaques” that will display a poem and prompt at scenic stops around local parks.

The plaques will specifically appear at Riverbend Park, Huntley Meadows Park, Burke Lake, and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. A QR code will let visitors upload their own writings.

Readings during National Poetry Month, which comes in April, will likely be held at Ellanor C. Lawrence in Chantilly, she said.

“My experiences in life and in the literary world directly inspire my vision for the next two years as Fairfax Poet Laureate,” Badra said in a statement to ArtsFairfax. “Through poetry workshops, readings, and activities in the Parks, I want to illuminate how language and our natural environment can be a source of comfort and creativity.”

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