Westchester County & ArtsWestchester Announce Phylisha Villanueva of Yonkers as Second Westchester Poet Laureate

Westchester County Executive George Latimer recently partnered with ArtsWestchester to announce that Westchester County’s new Poet Laureate is Phylisha Villanueva of Yonkers. Villanueva was one of 14 applicants for the position and will succeed poet B.K. Fischer who served in this countywide role for 3 years. Phylisha Villanueva began her three-year term in late January and will receive a $10K honorarium for each year of the appointment made possible with funds from Westchester County.

County Executive George Latimer said, “There is tremendous literary talent in Westchester and tremendous interest in poetry from people of all ages. The role of the Poet Laureate is to bring poetry to people and people to poetry and the County looks forward to working with Phylisha and ArtsWestchester to do just that over the next three years.”

ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam explained, “A lifelong lover of poetry and committed advocate for community arts development and poetry, Phylisha is a passionate artist interested in helping young people find their voices and express themselves through the written and spoken word.”

Phylisha Villanueva is a Belizean-American poet, author, and cultural activist. She is a teaching artist for ArtsWestchester, a member of the Jazz and Poetry Choir Collective, and Tesoro, an international women’s poet collective. Phylisha’s written work, including productions and curations, focuses on identity, colorism, inherited trauma, resilience, women’s empowerment, black culture, and mysticism. She specializes in Community Arts Development. She co-founded The Yonkers Writing Group and, as a teen, founded the first teen open mic in downtown Yonkers that lasted for five years. Currently, Phylisha is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Poetry at Saint Francis College while serving as a Board advisor and chairperson for the Blue Door Art Center membership committee in Yonkers. 

As Poet Laureate, Phylisha is interested in conducting ekphrastic writing workshops, a style of writing that responds to visual art, thereby creating a unique dialogue between the two art forms, as well as offering poetry slams and other open mic events to Westchester residents and visitors.

The Westchester Poet Laureate Program embraces both written and spoken poetic traditions, and seeks to promote poetry as a medium that defies boundaries and categories, serves as a platform for underrepresented voices, and offers a space for personal reflection and healing. Through public facing programming, the Poet Laureate will mobilize poetry to connect with diverse audiences, to address topics of cultural, social, and historical importance, and to show that poetry can bring real meaning and positive social change to people’s lives and communities.

ArtsWestchester is pleased to also be partnering with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF)’s Culpeper Arts & Culture Program on the Poet Laureate initiative.  Over the next three years RBF will provide significant support on the initiative through public-facing programming, including at The Pocantico Center in Tarrytown, artist collaborations, and event logistics.

About Westchester County’s Inaugural Poet Laureate B.K. Fischer: During B.K. Fischer’s tenure as Westchester County’s first Poet Laureate, among her accomplishments were receiving a prestigious Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets that supported Floodwaters, a series of writing workshops aimed towards engaging Westchester youth around climate change and the impact that recent storms and flooding around Westchester County. The Floodwaters Workshops reached 394 students around Westchester County during the 2022-2023 school year, including the two Youth Poets Laureate, and culminated in a short documentary capturing the works created by the local teens. This program was one of many public events that B.K. implemented throughout the county during her three years as Laureate.