Literary Laureate

The Inlandia Institute Literary Laureate award celebrates the literary excellence of our region. Inlandia Literary Laureates must live or work in Inland Southern California, write in a regional voice, work with diverse audiences, mentor emerging writers, foster creative literacy, and have a body of critically acclaimed published work.

Literary Laureate 2018–2020: Rachelle Cruz

Rachelle’s Hillary Gravendyk Prize-winning debut poetry collection, God’s Will for Monsters, was recognized by the Before Columbus Foundation with a 2018 American Book Award. Her newest book, Experiencing Comics, is a textbook for high school and college educators looking to bring comics into the classroom, especially work by writers and artists of color and underrepresented communities. She is also the co-editor, with Melissa Sipin, Kuwento: Lost Things, an anthology of Phillippine Myths. She has received fellowships from VONA, Emerging Voices, and Kunidiman.

On accepting the appointment, Rachelle Cruz says, “I’m excited to envision and curate literary programming and resources, with the help and input of community members, that reflect the literary needs and interests of the Inland Empire. I’m especially invested in bolstering voices of color, immigrants, queer writers and women in the area, and supporting communities that are underserved. The area is rich with poets, writers and readers of different genres and mediums, including comics, speculative fiction, history and more, and I’m interested in exploring these exciting intersections and possible collaborations during the term of my laureateship.”

Rachelle is a champion of accessibility for all regardless of barriers, including spearheading a GoFundMe campaign when it became clear that cost was preventing participation in her “Writing is a Superpower” workshop at Cellar Door Books for kids ages 11-17. “Rachelle is that person who not only has ideas that break the old boxes but is happy to work hard to implement those ideas,” Linda says.


Past Literary Laureates:

nikia chaney

Nikia Chaney

Inlandia Institute Literary Laureate 2017–2018
Founding editor of shufpoetry, an online journal for experimental poetry, and founding editor of Jamii Publishing, a publishing imprint dedicated to fostering community among poets and writers. Author of us mouth (University of Hell Press, 2018) and two chapbooks, Sis Fuss (2012, Orange Monkey Publishing) and ladies, please (2012, Dancing Girl Press).

Fellowships and grants: Cave Canem, the Millay Colony for the Arts, Squaw Valley, and the Barbara Demings Fund.
Winner: 2012 OSA Enizagam Poetry Award.

Voices Against Violence: a series of consecutive workshiops to address and heals violence in the communities of San Bernardino, Redlands, and Riverside.



Juan Delgado

Inlandia Institute Literary Laureate 2014-2016
Interim Provost and Professor of Creative Writing, Chicano Literature, and Poetry at California State University, San Bernardino

Regent’s Fellow: University of California, Irvine
American Book Award Winner

Projects: SCIPP at Bryant Elementary School of Arts and Innovation
A partnership with MFA students from the University of California, Riverside and Cal State San Bernardino and the Riverside Unified School District that brings a program of interdisciplinary writing and group literary and publishing projects to children in grades three to six.

Native Voices Poetry Festival:
Celebrating the human voice, the free festival gathered native writers, poets, singers, and storytellers from the region under the leadership of respected community members and elders.


gayle brandeis

Gayle Brandeis

Inlandia Institute Literary Laureate 2012-2014
Visiting Professor and Writer-in-Residence, Sierra Nevada College
Associate Faculty, Antioch University, Los Angeles

Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change
Nominee and Special Mention: Pushcart Prize
Quality Paperback Book Club/Story Magazine Short Story Award
Writer Who Makes a Difference Award, Writer’s Magazine

Projects: Orangelandia Anthology:
An inclusive exploration of Inland Southern California’s powerful citrus heritage in memoir, fiction, poetry, and documentary forms.

Women Wonder Writers:
A workshop for and anthology by at-risk young women.

Writer-in-Residence, Riverside Art Museum:
An innovative partnership with the arts community to reach area writers, young and old.


Susan Straight

Inlandia Institute Literary Laureate 2010-2012
Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing, University of California, Riverside

1990 Milkweed National Fiction Prize
2001 finalist, National Book Award for Fiction
Best American Short Stories (2003)
2007 Lannan Literary Award
2008 Edgar Allan Poe Award
2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Project: Literature for Inlandia: The Inaugural Tour
As the first Inlandia Literary Laureate, Susan worked with Inlandia staff, librarians, teachers, and professors to speak and give away books at the public libraries in Mecca, San Bernardino, Perris, Corona, and Riverside and at colleges and schools including Riverside City College, Mt. San Jacinto College, La Sierra High School, and Victoria Elementary School.