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Home » Orlando Poet Laureate hopes to inspire through sharing and creative expression – Orlando Sentinel

Orlando Poet Laureate hopes to inspire through sharing and creative expression – Orlando Sentinel

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Growing up in Orlando, Shawn Welcome regarded himself as a “regular guy” who played basketball and hung out with his friends. But as a fan of hip-hop and a thinker, he now considers that perhaps he was primed for poetry.
When Welcome returned to his birthplace — New York — for his senior year of high school, he discovered he had the gift of creative expression when he stumbled into writing and performance poetry.
“I was around a lot of creatives like friends who were in rap ciphers. Writing and performing in the hallways was just part of the culture,” he said. “I ended up, very naturally, kind of trying my hand at expressing myself, writing, doing raps and stuff like that. That whole year, it was like an incubation time for me.”
Soon after, Welcome returned to the City Beautiful and two decades later, he’s serving as the Orlando Poet Laureate. The UCF graduate and master’s student will seek to honor his craft this Saturday at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where he’ll perform poetry during “A Celebration of the Orlando Poet Laureate.”
2022 UCF Celebrates the Arts: 5 highlights
The event, part of UCF Celebrates the Arts 2022, also includes the city’s inaugural poet laureate, Susan Lilley, a UCF alumna, and UCF faculty members Terry Thaxton, Chrissy Kolaya and Martha Brenckle.
After Welcome discovered poetry and found a personal “tipping point” when he attended the National Poetry Slam in 2006, he explored ways the medium could help others process and heal.
“Between that and doing some work at 33rd Street Jail, where I hosted a poetry class, seeing the power that it had on the youth offenders, really inspired me to start my open mic night to really capture that energy,” Welcome said, recounting the start of Diverse Word, Orlando’s longest-running open mic. “All of these derivatives from trying out a rap just matured into something that I didn’t imagine, even for myself. I think it ultimately culminated in the selection of me as Poet Laureate for the City of Orlando.”
Through his work, Welcome hopes to inspire a new generation of young creatives to find their voice.
“If young people are exposed to tools of self-expression and creativity and there are people they can relate to around them … you increase the likelihood they’ll hear their voice through someone else in a way that resonates,” he said. “Maybe they’re primed or they have the creative speaking capacity that, in the right context, maybe they could try this.”
When Lilley, who was born and raised in Orlando, served as the city’s inaugural poet laureate and began her term in October 2017, she had similar goals of encouraging expression and championing literary arts.
“I really wanted to raise awareness of all the good writing that’s going on here. We have a vibrant literary community, it’s very welcoming,” said Lilley, who teaches at Trinity Prep and recently published a poetry book, “Venus in Retrograde.” “Writing is one of the great free human activities and my focus was to get more people to understand they can do it.”
Through his own writing and in hearing countless poems shared by others at Central Florida open mics, Welcome has witnessed the healing power of the written word.
“We’re talking about inspiration to keep living; we’re talking about people who come to my open mic nights and said that in their 12 Step program, they were asked to write a poem as a part of their healing,” he said. “We’re talking about people developing empathy, across time and space, because they heard a perspective that they haven’t heard before, through an art form.”
At this weekend’s event, these poets hope to share their craft and celebrate Orlando’s focus on arts.
“I’m really grateful that creative writing is being recognized as an important artistic part of our city — not just music, the dramatic arts and visual arts, but also creative writing. It’s wonderful,” Lilley said.
“A Celebration of the Orlando Poet Laureate” begins at 6 p.m. April 9 at 445 S. Magnolia Ave. in Orlando. The event is free and will take place inside the venue’s DeVos Family Room. UCF Celebrates the Arts 2022 is April 5-16 with musical performances, theater and visual arts. For more information, visit or
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