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Respect and Love for Sojourner Kincaid Rolle

Updated: May 1

Sojourner Kincaid Rolle was a beloved human and also the Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara from 2015-2017. She recently contributed to Volume 10, along with many of the other Poets Laureate of Santa Barbara. Sojourner wore many different hats: author, playwright, actress, songwriter, peace activist, naturist, nature writer, environmentalist, speaker, social justice activist, teacher (she taught young children, older adults, and incarcerated adults), radio host, lawyer, mediator, and the people’s poet, to name a few. Her last book, Free at Last: a Juneteenth Poem, is a picture book about the proclamation in Galveston to end slavery, now a national holiday.

Perie Longo, our Guest Editor of Poetry, and Maryanne Knight, Associate Editor, suggested that we dedicate Volume 10 to Sojourner. And although this is a small gesture, it was the least we could do to thank her.

Perie writes, "This issue is dedicated to Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, the sixth Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, who passed away November 13, 2023. At the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference this past June, you may have heard her speak and read from her latest book Free At Last: A Juneteenth Poem (2022), a celebration of Black American history from the holiday’s roots in 1865 to contemporary observances all over the United States. She held us in awe with her usual majesty and strength as a poet, historian, and truth sayer."

In this post, we're very pleased to feature the following essay about Sojourner by Enid Osborn, as well as a poem by Paul J. Willis that he wrote on the occassion of Sojourner becoming Poet Laureate. Both Enid and Paul are also Poets Laureate and have included their work in Volume 10.


by Enid Osborn

I met Sojourner Kincaid Rolle in the early eighties when we were both active in organizing demonstrations for nuclear disarmament.

Starting in 1988, I performed with the vocal trio “Bright Raven.” We were invited to sing at rallies and benefits for disarmament, civil rights, productive rights, Take Back the Night, AIDS-CAP, and environmental preservation. We also sang at weddings, memorials, house warmings, and we were popular at poetry events, as some of our original songs were poems set to music. In these realms, I crossed paths with Sojourner often.

When I drifted from music and became more focused on writing poetry, Sojourner generously invited me to read in her poetry series, which she hosted each month at Carrillo Recreation Center. Later, she continued the series at Cabrillo Arts Pavilion. Sojourner was an exceedingly gracious and gifted host. In her introductions of featured poets, she would polish each reader with a warm welcome and a special bio embellished with details about one’s artistic life, fished from Sojourner’s archival memory. She was a walking tome of community history.

By coordinating and hosting these readings, she offered an opportunity to many local poets, some of whom were reading before an audience for the first time. In later years, Sojourner hosted Poetry Zone, a monthly reading at Karpeles Manuscript Library. While she was host, “The Zone” moved to Granada Books—a happy setting!—then back to Karpeles. It should be mentioned that Poetry Zone gatherings usually included a featured poet followed by an open mic, where anyone could read an original poem.

Sojourner also worked with poets Cynthia Anderson, Abigail Albrecht, and others to organize early Santa Barbara Poetry Festivals, which were a departure from previous Arts Festivals, where poets held a much smaller corner. In 1993, I was invited by Cynthia—and approved by the others—to be a featured reader at the Festival. I was unbearably excited at this opportunity, which would bring my work to a larger audience and boost my resumé. I could even say my work as a poet took off from that point. The SBPF has survived and persisted due to the dedicated efforts of many, but I believe there were a few years when Sojourner was the sole engine who kept the festival alive.

I am here to praise Sojourner’s gifts as a poetry engine and host; her heart and vision for our community; and her tenacity to keep important events alive through difficult times.

I wish to praise and illustrate additional aspects of Sojourner’s character with the following story. Sojourner was—at any moment—stirring many pots. She was preparing a speech, while writing a special poem for an anniversary event, while writing an outline for a workshop, while applying for a grant, while teaching a student, and so on. She was often overextended and had a tendency to arrive late to events. Though we complained about “the late thing,” the consensus was that Sojourner was always worth waiting for. When my first book of poems was released in May 2015, I held a launch event at Parish Hall and sent invitations to the entire poetry community. My husband Jay and I arrived early to set up sound, flowers, refreshments, and chairs. Just when I worried that we wouldn’t be ready in time, Sojourner hurried in—45 minutes early!—kicked off her dressy shoes and proceeded to set up most of the chairs. My saving angel! I should mention that she was Santa Barbara’s Poet Laureate at the time.

Later, she confided that she had the hour wrong and thought she was 15 minutes late—ha! But the salient points of this story are that Sojourner would do anything to support a friend, going to some lengths to help that friend succeed! And Sojourner had A LOT of friends! Accomplished and in demand though she was, she never thought herself too important to take on an ordinary task if needed—even while holding high office. Further testament to Sojourner’s largesse and her sterling character! Brava Sojourner! Brava! Many thanks!

With This Wreath

by Paul J. Willis

for Sojourner Kincaid Rolle

With this wreath

we thee crown

poet laureate

of our town.

Wear it lightly,

hold it fast;

for our city

make it last.

But should it wither,

as it will,

remember you’re

a poet still.

And, indeed, Sojourner will always be a poet whom we hold in our collective memory and heart. On April 8, at 6 p.m., Lit Jo will be having a reading at Chaucer's with Poets Laureate Perie Longo, David Starkey, Paul J. Willis, Enid Osborn, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, and Melinda Palacio. Because Sojourner cannot be there to read from her poems that are in Volume 10, we will read one of her poems in her honor. Please join us.


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