As we faced the myriad challenges and changes in our world, as well as in our own lives, we were excited to be able to come together again and draw strength from one another. Our 2023 conference Coming Together and Promoting Empowerment: Building Community Through Challenge and Change was held Wednesday, March 29 - Sunday, April 2, 2023 in the beautiful city of Denver, Colorado at the Embassy Suites, Denver Central Park. Joining us as our Opening Poet was Bobby LeFebre, Naomi Shihab Nye was our Keynote Poet, Joy Roulier Sawyer gave our Keynote Address, and Jovan Mays was our closing poet.
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Our 2023 Keynotes & Special Events
Naomi Shihab Nye describes herself as a “wandering poet.” She has spent more than 40 years traveling the country and the world to lead writing workshops and inspiring students of all ages. Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio. Drawing on her Palestinian-American heritage, the cultural diversity of her home in Texas, and her experiences traveling in Asia, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the Middle East, Nye uses her writing to attest to our shared humanity.
Naomi Shihab Nye is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes. Her new book is The Turtle of Michigan (Greenwillow Books, March 15, 2022) a sequel to The Turtle of Oman. In 2022 she edited, with David Hassler and Tyler Meier, an anthology of poetry reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine through poetry titled Dear Vaccine: Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic (Kent State University Press, April 5, 2022).
Naomi Shihab Nye has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow (Library of Congress). She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, the Robert Creeley Prize, and "The Betty Prize" from Poets House, for service to poetry, and numerous honors for her children’s literature, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. . In 2011 Nye won the Golden Rose Award given by the New England Poetry Club, the oldest poetry reading series in the country. Her work has been presented on National Public Radio on A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac. She has been featured on two PBS poetry specials including “The Language of Life with Bill Moyers” and also appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers. She has been affiliated with The Michener Center for writers at the University of Texas at Austin for 20 years and also poetry editor at The Texas Observer for 20 years. In 2019-2020 she was the editor for New York Times Magazine poems. She is Chancellor Emeritus for the Academy of American Poets, a laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Award for Children’s Literature, and in 2017 the American Library Association presented Naomi Shihab Nye with the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. In 2018 the Texas Institute of Letters awarded her the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was named the 2019-2021 Young People's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. In 2020 she was awarded the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement by the National Book Critics Circle. In 2021 she was voted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Nye is Professor of Creative Writing - Poetry at Texas State University.
Bobby LeFebre is an award-winning writer, performer, and cultural worker fusing a non-traditional multi-hyphenated professional identity to imagine new realities, empower communities, advance arts and culture, and serve as an agent of provocation, transformation, equity and social change. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Huffington Post, The Guardian, American Theater Magazine, NPR, and Poets.Org.
In 2004, LeFebre co-founded a now transitioned award-winning nonprofit organization, Cafe Cultura, which was dedicated to utilizing poetry as a tool for youth literacy and educational and cultural development. Café Cultura used spoken word workshops, classes, and open mics to hold space for, center, and uplift marginalized voices—specifically Latinx and indigenous voices—across the Denver Metro area.
LeFebre is a two-time Grand Slam Champion, a National Poetry Slam Finalist, an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist, and a two-time TEDx speaker. He has performed at hundreds of cultural events, social actions, detention centers, conferences, and colleges and universities across the United States and abroad.
Holding a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the Metropolitan University of Denver and a master’s degree in Art, Literature and Culture from the University of Denver, LeFebre is a Fellow of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures Leadership Institute, the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures Advocacy Institute, and the Intercultural Leadership Institute. LeFebre received the Cesar Chavez Peace and Justice Community Award, the MSU Distinguished Alumni Award, the MSU Chicano Studies Award for Commitment to Education, the MSU Statement maker award, and was named one of Colorado’s Top Creatives by Westword Magazine.
In 2017, LeFebre was appointed by the Mayor of Denver to serve a two year term as Co-Chair of the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs. Currently, LeFebre serves as a Board Member for the Clyfford Still Museum, an Advisory Council Member for the Latino Cultural Arts Center, an advisor for the Mayor’s Denver Institute of Equity and Reconciliation, and a founding Member of Interfest Denver.
LeFebre wrote the award-winning play, Northside, which was applauded as one of the most successful local theater productions in Denver’s history. Premiering at Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center, the production intimately addressed the conflict of gentrification in Denver. The production sold out an unprecedented 30 shows, with over ten-thousand people attending. LeFebre stated "Northside" served as "an unapologetic celebration of cultural preservation and permanence and a eulogy to things lost." He called it "an urban-colloquial story of power and privilege, unflinching love, and the innate human need to belong somewhere." The production led to LeFebre being named Colorado Theatre Person of the year.
In 2019, Governor Jared Polis named LeFebre Colorado’s 8th Poet Laureate, making him the youngest and first ever person of color to be appointed to the prestigious position in the program’s 100 year history.
Joy Roulier Sawyer is the author of two poetry collections, Lifeguards (Conundrum Press) and Tongues of Men and Angels (White Violet Press), as well as several nonfiction books.
Until entering treatment for leukemia in 2015, she was a longtime licensed professional counselor, registered poetry therapist, and approved mentor-supervisor with the National (now International) Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy, and received the National Association for Poetry Therapy’s Distinguished Service Award.
Joy revised and updated the third edition Biblio/Poetry Therapy: The Interactive Process by poetry therapy pioneer Arleen Hynes and Mary Hynes-Berry, a seminal textbook in the field, and currently serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Poetry Therapy. For many years, she co-led week-long journal/poetry therapy trainings with her supervisor Kay Adams, as well as co-taught Writing and Healing classes with her in the masters of liberal studies program at the University of Denver.
Joy currently teaches creative writing at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she received the Beacon Award for Teaching Excellence. In addition to her classes, she also facilitates Hard Times, workshops for those experiencing homelessness and other life challenges, and was a facilitator for Writing to Be Free, a program for women transitioning out of incarceration.
Along with trained poetry therapist Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, she also co-founded The Art of Facilitation, which teaches others how to facilitate dynamic workshops, meetings, coaching sessions and more: www.artoffacilitation.net.
Jovan Mays is the inaugural and emeritus Poet Laureate of Aurora, Colorado, a National Poetry Slam Champion, and the Youth Voice Coordinator of Aurora Public Schools. As an arts educator, Mays has worked with over a million students throughout the Denver Metro and beyond through poetry outreach in his program, Your Writing Counts. He has also worked as the community engagement coordinator for Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Mays is the author of three books: Pride, The Great Box Escape and This Is Your Song. His work has been published by The Pilgrimage, Button Poetry, and Write About Now. He is a graduate of Chadron State College where he played football, wrestled, and earned a degree in Secondary History Education.