In 2019, Melissa Kwasny and Mandy Smoker were appointed co-Poets Laureate by Montana governor Steve Bullock. As Poets Laureate and women from marginalized communities, Kwasny and Smoker aim to celebrate poetry as an art that fosters connection, relationships and bridge building. In communities across the state they plan to share their poetry, their creative processes and how poetry can provide a source of understanding and hope. Through their presentations, they will collaboratively demonstrate how poetry can speak to issues of diversity and inclusion, landscape and the environment, and culture and history.
Melissa Kwasny is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Where Outside the Body is the Soul Today, and Pictograph, and a collection of essays on the poetic image, Earth Recitals: Essays on Image and Vision. Along with M.L. Smoker, she edited an anthology of poems in defense of global human rights, entitled I Go to the Ruined Place, as well as Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry. Kwasny has taught poetry writing in graduate and undergraduate programs and in the public schools for over thirty years.
M.L. (Mandy) Smoker, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux, is the author of one collection of poems, Another Attempt at Rescue. She is a lifelong educator and advocate for Indian education, who has worked at the tribal college, K-12 and state department of education levels. She was previously the director of Indian Education for the Office of Public Instruction for almost ten years and currently works for the non-profit Education Northwest as a practice expert in Indian education.
As a poet raised on the Hi-Line and as a professor of creative writing, Haaland knows the benefit of bringing cultural activities to rural and urban environments. Tami Haaland is the author of three poetry collections, What Does Not Return, When We Wake in the Night, and Breath in Every Room, winner of the Nicholas Roerich First Book Award. Haaland’s poems have appeared in High Desert Journal, Consequence, Ascent, The Ecopoetry Anthology, and many other periodicals and anthologies. Her work has also been featured on The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry. She has received an Artist Innovation Award from Montana Arts Council and a Governor’s Humanities Award from Humanities Montana. From 2013 to 2015 Haaland served as Montana Poet Laureate. She is a professor of English at Montana State University Billings.