Fresno State alumna Megan Anderson Bohigian has been named the City of Fresno’s fifth poet laureate, serving as the city’s literary ambassador.
Mayor Jerry Dyer swore-in Bohigian on Thursday, April 22 as part of a Fresno City Hall virtual ceremony. She becomes the University’s third alumni selected for the role, all from the College of Arts and Humanities.
Bohigian — an educator who has taught writing to people of all ages, from Fresno Unified to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — will serve a two-year term beginning immediately.
An alumna of Fresno’s McLane High School, Bohigian earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater, with an emphasis in playwriting, from the California Institute of the Arts. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Fresno State in 2006. Bohigian is the author of two poetry collections: “Sightlines,” published in 2013 by Tourane Poetry Press; and the chapbook “Vanishing Point,” published in 2018 by The Orchard Street Press.
Her poems have appeared in journals including the Atticus Review, Comstock Review, Quiet Diamonds, and Hot Metal Press. Her poem “Sweeping: El lógico de la escoba,” published in Whiskey Island Magazine, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is anthologized in the book “Shadowed: Unheard Voices,” published in 2014 by The Press at California State University, Fresno. Bohigian curates the long-running Respite by the River summer series at the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, which brings together Central Valley authors and musicians for community performances.
Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities, praised Bohigian’s contributions to the local arts scene.
“Megan has inspired students of all ages during her teaching career, embodying Fresno State’s mission to produce bold leaders who give back to the community,” Chapman said. “Infused with keenly observed details of our Valley, Megan’s poetry inspires us all to respect this land where we live and to embrace the beauty of artistic expression. We look forward to her students becoming poets laureate, too.”
Bohigian grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She said her memories of her father, Albert T. Anderson — a writing instructor at San Francisco State who died at age 36, when Megan was just 9 years old — are of him writing, reading and reciting poetry out loud.
“It’s fair to say I’m from a poetry family,” Bohigian said. “Poetry was a source of joy. My father’s poems, which I still have, are very powerful and playful.”
She said her older cousins, Philip and Michael Dow, who later also became published poets, helped take care of her and her brother, after their father died and while their mother worked. Bohigian remembers them writing out poems together and then illustrating them, in the simple, nonsensical style of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” The first poem she learned to recite by heart, around age 10, was a poem about a bat, taken from Theodore Roethke’s “I Am! Said the Lamb.”
“With wordplay, I saw immediately as a young kid the relationships between words and images,” Bohigian said.
Her fifth-grade teacher, Raymond Carney, gave Bohigian her first (unofficial) publication: one poem in a mimeographed collection of haiku, written by the class.
Carney also gave Bohigian a used typewriter and showed her how to type, she said, because her handwriting wasn’t so good. “This is what writers use,” she remembers her teacher explaining, as he encouraged her to write poems, songs and fictional stories in response to class papers.
“Mr. Carney was the best teacher ever,” she said.
Bohigian’s mother, Mary Anderson McFarland, moved the family to Fresno when Bohigian was in the eighth grade. Her mom taught English for more than 25 years at Fresno City College.
After college and early work in communications, Bohigian said she decided to “do something that felt more significant for someone else and not just for me,” and she became a teacher too. She taught in Fresno Unified, first in middle school, then elementary school, and then high school.
Bohigian is perhaps most beloved in the Fresno literary community for her time teaching at Roosevelt High, where for more than a decade she co-organized with school librarian Sandra Gutierrez an annual series of poetry week gatherings. Bohigian said Central Valley writers were always so generous with their time at Roosevelt, as students on block schedules packed classrooms and auditoriums throughout the day, for five days straight, to hear poets read their works and share creative writing activities.
Thousands of Roosevelt teens over that time period got a direct taste of poetry from the gatherings, Bohigian said. Many of these students were terrific creative writers, but oftentimes their other teachers didn’t know.
“Poetry knocks the walls down,” she said. “Writing poetry can disabuse children of the notion that you take a test to make your school look good and that’s the only measure of literacy.”
Bohigian’s closest poetry mentors include Corrinne Clegg Hales and the late Peter Everwine, both poets and Fresno State professors emeriti of English; and the poet Sharon Bryan, who was a visiting professor at the University in Bohigian’s final semester in the MFA program.
“I learned so much from Connie Hales about teaching and about poetry,” she said. “She had high standards and lots of rigor. Connie teaches you to be very concrete about how a poem is working and where it’s working. I use her approach myself and also with my own students.”
Bohigian credits Bryan for teaching her about “the music of a poem,” and about how a poem’s form and line breaks create tension and sound. These lessons became amplified in her later friendship with Everwine, a master lyricist as a poet and a mean banjo player in his heyday.
As Fresno’s new poet laureate, Bohigian hopes to channel the spirit of her past Roosevelt gatherings, perhaps reinventing them as pop-up events that could travel to local schools and public libraries. “There’s no librarian in Fresno who’d say no!” she said.
She said she’d also like to work on some kind of collective healing project, inviting community members across generations to write poetry about the loss, trauma, isolation, and anger of the past year’s coronavirus pandemic and social unrest.
“This wouldn’t be so much for established poets,” Bohigian said, “but for people who maybe haven’t written poetry. Or maybe the ones whose poetry is in secret notebooks. We all have very different frames of reference and experience for what we’ve been through. But what we have in common is the intensity of feelings.”
Bohigian is the third Fresno State graduate to hold the Fresno poet laureate title. Marisol Baca, an English instructor at Fresno City College, served from 2019-21 as the fourth Fresno poet laureate. Baca earned her bachelor’s degree in English (2003) from Fresno State. James Tyner, a librarian for the Fresno County Public Library, served from 2013-15 as the first Fresno poet laureate. Tyner earned both his MFA in creative writing (2009) and his bachelor’s in English (2003) from Fresno State.
The second Fresno poet laureate was Lee Herrick from 2015-17, and the third was S. Bryan Medina from 2017-19.
The Fresno Arts Council collected nominations submitted from the public between Jan. 1 and Feb. 26. The selection committee, which consisted of the city’s past four poets laureate, then reviewed the nominations and came to a consensus before making its recommendation to the mayor and city council.
The city’s poet laureate activities, including the annual Poetry Out Loud competitions for area high schools, are funded in part by grants from the California Arts Council and the Bonner Family Foundation.
The Fresno Arts Council will further celebrate Bohigian’s appointment with an event sometime this summer, when public health guidelines permit.