Aurora Poet Laureate Assétou Xango recently received a grant from the Academy of American Poets to further their existing work with Aurora Public Schools. Portrait by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Aurora’s presiding wordsmith last month was named one of nearly two dozen poets laureate from across the country to receive a $50,000 grant to buoy their work in the city.

The Academy of American Poets announced May 28 that Assétou Xango, Aurora’s poet laureate since February 2017, will receive a fellowship to continue their civic projects around Aurora.

“I yelled so loud,” Xango said of being notified being awarded one of the grants.

In total, the Academy of American poets awarded more than $1 million to 23 poets laureate around the country, the group announced last month. A recent $4.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will continue to support the expanded funding program through 2022.

“As we face the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are turning to poetry for comfort and courage,” Academy Executive Director and President Jennifer Benka said in a statement. “We are honored and humbled in this moment of great need to fund poets who are talented artists and community organizers, who will most certainly help guide their communities forward.”

Aurora Poet Laureate Assetou Xango recently received a grant from the Academy of American Poets to further their existing work with Aurora Public Schools. Portrait by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Xango plans to use the grant funds to further their existing work with Action Zone, an Aurora Public Schools initiative intended to galvanize a quintet of schools in north Aurora. For two years, Xango has led poetry workshops with students at Crawford Elementary School, Paris Elementary School, Boston P-8, Aurora Central High School and Aurora West College Preparatory Academy.

The program typically culminates with a public, uncensored performance that often magnetizes a gaggle of local politicos.

“We let their voices be heard,” Xango said of the work with north Aurora students.

The Glendale resident said they also plan to turn their attention to fostering a new literary agency called Dark Goddess Poets designed to promote and mentor other local poets.

“I really want to teach these younger poets what their worth is and make this industry less of a starving artist scenario and realize this work is extremely important,” Xango said.

In the meantime, Xango is continuing to perform socially distant works via videos posted to their social media accounts and organize events at demonstrations across the metroplex.

“We’re really focusing on bringing back healing and black joy,” Xango said of a pair of events they recently helped organize in front of the State Capitol and in Denver’s City Park. “I think there’s a lot of focus on black death, and that’s important to recognize, however it feels that there’s a pattern of black lives only mattering after they’re gone. It’s like: how do we take care of ourselves now?”

Originally slated to serve as the city’s second-ever poet laureate for two years, Xango is now in their fourth year of service via a pair of extensions granted by city council members. While Xango talked about being grateful for the position, which was crafted by former City Councilperson Debi Hunter-Holen some seven years ago, they it’s time to pass the baton.

“I have learned so much from this position, and I feel very clear about who I am as an artist: I know how to show up, how to make money and to give the best of myself,” Xango said. “And I am just really ready to pass that on to the next person down the line.”