Chapel Hill Poet Laureate

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About the program

The mission of the Chapel Hill Poet Laureate is to inspire creativity and celebrate community through poetry, public programs, and shared poetry experiences. The Poet Laureate carries out this mission by being an ambassador for poetry, by fostering connections to the poetry community, and by enhancing the social and civic life of the Chapel Hill community. 

This position is paid $3,000 total for a two-year term. The next application period will begin in the fall of 2024 with appointment beginning in January of 2025.

About Cortland Gilliam

Cortland Gilliam (he/him) is a poet, educator, scholar and cultural organizer based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While he has come to consider many places home growing up in a military family, attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for his B.A. in Economics in 2010 and again for his Ph.D. in Education in 2016 has deepened his ties and commitments to the Chapel Hill community, to the home state of the past five generations of his family, and to the U.S. South more broadly.

Cultural space-making and space-taking are essential to his artistic and political practice and the ways he aims to cultivate community. In his academic work, Cortland studies cultures, policies and practices of school discipline, as well as histories of Black pre-voting-age youth contributions to political struggles and liberation movements during the late twentieth century. In his creative works – which span poetry, filmmaking, and curation – he explores and illuminates the hues and textures of racialized experiences, identities, and histories.

During his time as a graduate student, Cortland has regularly performed his work around the NC Triangle area – as a creative outlet at various open mic nights and at protest rallies in service of the local anti-racist movement of the past six years. Additionally, Cortland’s written work has appeared in Walter Magazine, Gulf Stream Magazine, and in an independently published collection of emerging NC-based poets, Triangle Poetry Twenty-Twenty-One.

Cortland’s fusion of the creative and political has also extended to artistic works beyond the poetry. In response to the University of  North Carolina at Chapel Hill administration’s refusal to remove a Confederate monument on campus and proactively disrupt the broader university culture of white supremacy, Cortland participated in a daily performative “Noose Protest”, in which he and graduate colleague Jerry Wilson wore white and Carolina Blue nooses while on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for nine-months. This protest effort led to a follow-up project, wherein Cortland and Jerry co-curated the collaborative art exhibition #BlackOutLoudUNC.

Central to Cortland’s role in all of these experiences was his identity and perspective as a poet and the way they shape how he engages with the people around him and the spaces he inhabits. Poetry is as much about the beautiful deployment of language as it is about voice. Therefore, Cortland views poetry and art as a vehicle for voice – the imparting of perspective, the sharing of knowledge, the transmission of feeling, the disruption of power, the cultivation of community. Cortland currently serves at co-chair on the Board of Directors for the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History.

Photo by Jade Wilson

Get to know Chapel Hill's Poet Laureate

Watch various interviews and talkbacks of Cortland sharing his academic and creative work.

“On Distorting History and Growing the Margins”
for the On the Margins Podcast by Jerry Wilson

“Imagining UNC’s Future with Art – Yet & Still
a conversation about activism and art with Melody Hunter-Pillion

Interview with 91.5 WUNC

Cortland recently sat down with Due South host Leoneda Inge to discuss his work as an activist, community organizer and public artist. The doctoral candidate in education at UNC-Chapel Hill also shared some of his poetry.

Interview with 97.9 The Hill WCHL

Chapel Hill poet laureate Cortland Gilliam joins WCHL Chapelboro host Aaron Keck to share a poem and discuss his history, his influences, and his vision for the role.


In response to a protest effort surrounding the refusal to remove a Confederate monument on UNC's campus, Cortland and graduate school colleague Jerry Wilson co-curated a collaborative art exhibit.

Watch The Interview

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Chapel Hill Laureate Poet Information