Northampton’s new poet laureate lives in Greenfield: Franny Choi is 10th person to hold title

Publisher’s Weekly called 2022’s “The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On,” Franny Choi’s most recent poetry volume, “urgent and lyrically dynamic.” 

Publisher’s Weekly called 2022’s “The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On,” Franny Choi’s most recent poetry volume, “urgent and lyrically dynamic.” 

Franny Choi is Northampton’s new poet laureate.

Franny Choi is Northampton’s new poet laureate. Photo by Francesca B. Marie

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 01-19-2024 11:43 AM

NORTHAMPTON — After a delay caused in part by the pandemic, the city has a new poet laureate.

Franny Choi, who was nominated last year for a Massachusetts Book Award, has written for the New York Times and the Atlantic, and been interviewed on NPR, has been appointed Northampton’s 10th poet laureate, a position the city’s Arts Council first created a little over two decades ago.

Choi, a graduate of Brown University (B.A. in literary arts and ethnic studies) and the University of Michigan (M.F.A. in poetry), will serve in their new position from 2024 to 2026. They lived in Northampton for a number of years until moving to Greenfield in 2022.

They replace Karen Skolfield of Amherst, the city’s outgoing poet laureate.

Jesse Hassinger, a member of an Arts Council subcommittee that searched for a new laureate, said he initially asked the other four members of the group to come up with a short list of names of potential candidates.

“Everyone had Franny on their short list,” he said. “It became clear pretty soon that we had a leading candidate.”

Hassinger, a former Arts Council member who had heard Choi read their work at some earlier readings, said Choi “has an amazing voice, and (their) work covers a lot of complex issues, from the Korean diaspora to Asian American racism to end-of-the world scenarios.”

And, he added, Choi’s poetry is excellent, and their personality is excellent.

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Choi’s most recent volume, “The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On,” was a finalist for a Massachusetts Book Award and has received many favorable reviews. Publisher’s Weekly calls it an “urgent and lyrically dynamic” collection addressing “intergenerational trauma and the anxieties of living in a world skating on the precipice of apocalypse.”

Choi teaches literature at Bennington College in Vermont and has also been involved with poetry slams for years. In addition, they’re the founder of Brew & Forge, an organization designed to build connections between writers, organizers and movement workers.

In an email, Choi said: “Community has always been an integral part of my practice as a writer. … Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to put down some roots here in the Valley, and I’m looking forward to deepening my connection to this area, which I love.

“Other than being the official poetry nerd-in-chief,” Choi added, “I’m excited to use my tenure to highlight and support the beautiful work being done by BIPOC, queer and trans poets in the Northampton area.”

Choi, in fact, will make their public introduction as Northampton’s poet laureate March 1 at 33 Hawley with a reading and with a Brew & Forge event featuring Valley poets of color; there will also be information presented about grassroots organizing efforts in the area.

Hassinger said another reason Choi is a great choice as poet laureate is that they are “tied in with a bunch of local and national organizations.”

The position is typically held for two years, during which appointees are asked to host a number of public events and activities of their choice to help educate the public about the importance of poets and poetry to Northampton’s civic and artistic life.

Skolfield’s tenure was extended when the pandemic disrupted the Arts Council’s ability to meet regularly and find the time to choose her replacement, Hassinger noted.

He said Choi is currently working on a new book, and because of that was a little hesitant at first about becoming Northampton’s new poet laureate. But the Arts Council has been willing to work around their schedule. Hassinger noted that Choi will also be involved in helping the council select a new youth poet laureate.

“We’re so happy to have Franny with us,” said Hassinger. “We’re thrilled.”

More about Franny Choi can be found at frannychoi.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.