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Honors & Awards
February 6, 2024

SFC Graduate Student Named Poet Laureate of Westchester

Phylisha Villanueva
Phylisha Villanueva

On January 23, Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced that Phylisha Villanueva, a Yonkers resident who is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing (poetry) at St. Francis College, is Westchester’s newest poet laureate.

Villanueva began her three-year term shortly thereafter, succeeding the inaugural laureate, B.K. Fischer. She was one of 14 applicants for the position and will receive a $10,000 honorarium for each year of the appointment.

In her role as laureate, Villanueva, a Belizean-American poet, author and cultural activist, is interested in conducting workshops in ekphrastic poetry — a style of writing that responds to visual art, thereby creating a unique dialogue between the two art forms — as well as organizing countywide poetry slams and other open-mic events. Through these public programs, Villanueva hopes to mobilize poetry to connect with diverse audiences and address topics of cultural, social and historical importance.

Among the multifaceted themes Villanueva explores in her written work are identity, resilience, inherited trauma, women’s empowerment, mysticism, colorism and Black culture. The co-founder of the Yonkers Writing Group and a teaching artist for ArtsWestchester, Villanueva is a member of both the Jazz and Poetry Choir Collective, a performance group that fuses spoken word with jazz, and Tesoro, an international women’s poetry collective.

Theo Gangi, a lecturer and director of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at St. Francis College, calls Villanueva “an extraordinary talent. Her work is profoundly resonant and moving.” Villanueva is expected to complete her degree at St. Francis College in late 2025.

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