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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 2 years ago

Trinity Prep teacher embraces role as Orlando's first poet laureate.

Susan Lilley has become the the city of Orlando's official storyteller.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

One Trinity Preparatory School teacher has been given a chance to show off her love for the written word, becoming the official wordsmith for her hometown.

English teacher Susan Lilley recently was named the city of Orlando’s poet laureate. As such, she will be in charge of promoting poetry and an appreciation for poetry among residents.

The Orlando native had to go through an intensive application process, which included a strict list of criteria and in-person interviews.

She applied at the end of July, interviewed in October and was told she got the position later that month, selected out of 49 applicants.

“I’m kind of amazed — there are so many good writers in this area,” Lilley said. “Orlando is really becoming a literary center, and I think the fact that Mayor (Buddy) Dyer showed such vision in having the idea to appoint a poet laureate is an indication of where we’re going in the city as an art center.

“To put a light on the literary arts in this way is just so encouraging to everyone,” she said. “I’m quite humbled, because I know so many good writers. I’m just kind of ‘Why me?’ It’s really an honor.”

After officially being given the title at an Orlando City Council meeting Oct. 23, she now is working with the city to formulate her exact role and next steps. As the city’s official storyteller, Lilley will present original works of poetry at city events and youth activities, all to inspire emerging generations of literary artists and readers.

“We are excited for Susan to use the literary arts to tell our community’s stories,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. “There is no doubt that Orlando is a better place to live and work because of our vibrant arts and cultural scene, and the poet laureate will help continue to add to our city’s unique sense of place.”

Lilley has been an English teacher at Trinity Prep for 20 years. Before that, she served for 12 years in the English department at the University of Central Florida. She currently teaches AP literature and composition to seniors about to head to college.

Her love for English literature all began during her years at Winter Park High School.

“I had an epiphany in the 11th grade at Winter Park High School,” Lilley said. “In my English class, I was reading ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats, and I just thought ‘If I could just read and think about stuff like this all the time, I would be so happy.’ I think I became an English major that day.”

It took years for her to start writing poetry though, she said.

“Knowing as a writer that you have to write a lot of bad stuff before you get any good at anything … I wasn’t willing to do it,” Lilley said. “I thought, ‘Why bother?’ I’m just going to study literature. I’m not going to write it.”

But somewhere in her 20s, Lilley began writing poetry on her own and eventually started sharing and publishing her work. She got a master’s degree of fine arts from the University of Southern Maine as well, and later received the Rita Dove Poetry Award for her writing.

“I thought, ‘OK, I’m doing this,’” Lilley said. “I’m going to write as well as teach.”

Her new title as poet laureate not only gives her another creative outlet but also allows her to give back to her hometown, Lilley said.

“I feel a kinship with this city and all of its good and challenging aspects,” she said. “I feel like I understand the city and love it. I really live here; every street means something to me.”

Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.


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