The Prince William Poet Laureate Selection Panel was introduced to the media at a reception at Bistro L’ Hermitage, 12724 Occoquan Road in Woodbridge, Virginia on April 29 by representatives of the Prince William County Arts Council – June Forte, steering committee chair, Write by the Rails; Nancy Kyme, representing the program’s corporate sponsor Tackett’s Mill Lakeside; and Sheyna Burt, PWC Arts Council Chair.
The selection panel includes eleven (11) prominent poets, scholars and business leaders in the Prince William community. Selection panel members are:
1.      Alirio Aleman, poet, novelist and Spanish-language journalist;
2.      Lindsey Barszcy, student, Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, Woodbridge Senior High School;
3.      Carlos Castro, entrepreneur and founder of Todos Supermarkets;
4.      Dr. Constance Gilman, Director, Prince William Public Library System;
5.      Cathy Hailey, creative writing teacher, Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, Woodbridge Senior High School;
6.      Marie Khalili Nasiri, author and business owner (State Farm Insurance, Manassas), daughter of Khalilullah Khalili (historian, poet, philosopher and statesman of Afghanistan);
7.      Sergeant Major Michael Mack, Wounded Warrior Regiment, Marine Corps Base Quantico;
8.      Alice Mergler, English and drama teacher, Parkside Middle School;
9.      Eric Pankey, poet, professor of English and Heritage Chair in Writing, George Mason University;
10.  Mark Shaaber, Chief Executive Officer, SCS Integrated Support Solutions, Manassas, and Founder and Chairman, Prince William Veterans Council; and
11.  LeeAnn Thomas, poet, Assistant Professor of English, Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge Campus and board member of the Northern Virginia Review.
Special guest Sofia Starnes, Poet Laureate of Virginia, spoke, as she often does around the Commonwealth, about the importance of poetry in community life and read a selection of her poems. Starnes, a Williamsburg resident whose term ends in 2014, discussed her Poet Laureate project, The Nearest Poem Anthology, which is a compilation of readers’ responses from around the state to poems that have touched them deeply. The essays of two Write by the Rails members, Kristy Feltenberger Gillespie, a school guidance counselor at Marstellar Middle School in Bristow, and June Forte, a lecturer at Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge Campus, are featured in the book.
The deadline for nominations for the Prince William Poet Laureate position is May 10. Nomination guidance and forms are available on the Prince William County Arts Council website at www.pwcartscouncil.org (click on “news”).  
The election panel will meet in late May at Northern Virginia Community College, Woodbridge Campus, to select the Prince William Poet Laureate.  The announcement of the first Prince William Poet Laureate will be made on June 14 at Tackett’s Mill Lakeside.
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Media contact: June Forte, Prince William Poet Laureate Committee Chair, at home1270@msn.com.
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