As Delaware’s Poets Laureate, Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills use their talents to advocate for the community
Few people have the opportunity to live out their dream careers with a loved one working alongside them. But for Delaware’s Poets Laureate—perhaps better known as Wilmington’s Twin Poets—that daydream is a reality.
Identical twins Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills were appointed to their honorary post last December by Governor Jack Markell. They are the latest in a long line of poets appointed by governors dating back to 1947, when the tradition was established by the General Assembly.
The brothers are the first co-appointees in the nation, and they have enthusiastically embraced their roles as the official advocates, educators and presenters of poetry in Delaware. But it’s not just poetry they’re advocating for. Chukwuocha and Mills are both social workers, with deep roots in the community tracing back to their shared childhood, when they lived in a house at 26th and Madison streets in Wilmington, where their grandmother ran a foster home. Their father, William “Hicks” Anderson, was a well-known community leader from the late 1960s until his death in 1990.
“The community is an extension of our home,” says Chukwuocha. “We were raised this way. This is second nature to us.”
The Twin Poets incorporate poetry/spoken word and creative writing programming into schools, libraries and community centers, introduce poetry as a tool for transformation within youth detention centers and adult correctional facilities, utilize poetry to serve veterans (especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder), and take poetry/spoken word and creative writing into communities of need to help address gun violence.
The duo also presents readings and discussions at conferences, public ceremonies and events across the state, promoting the importance of poetry and the literary arts as part of Delaware’s cultural heritage.
“We want to be that voice to encourage children, to help people in rough circumstances, to see that art is part of the solution to conflict resolution,” says Mills. “There’s so much we can do with art, and we want to make sure we are living examples to show that art can change lives.”
In addition to being a poet and social worker, Chukwuocha is a member of the Wilmington City Council and chairs the city’s Education, Youth and Families committee, while Mills, aside from being a social worker, serves as a therapist utilizing art as a tool for foundational change in youth, families and communities.
The brothers have won dozens of humanitarian awards while penning several poetry books, and they were featured on the Peabody Award-winning HBO program Def Poetry in 2000.
The Delaware Division of the Arts promotes the Poets Laureates’ events and activities, manages the calendar of appearances, and provides a stipend to the Poets Laureate for appearances at nonprofit organizations.
“The Twin Poets employ poetry as an art form that transcends the page,” says Paul Weagraff, director of the Delaware Division of the Arts. “Their poetry sheds light on difficult social issues, raises awareness of the human condition, and provides hope to individuals and communities alike.”
As twins, Chukwuocha and Mills obviously have a lot in common. In addition to their long dreadlocks, both are veterans, vegetarians and fathers—Mills has two children, Chukwuocha has three.
“We both work together with our poetry, we write together, do workshops, perform together, speak in classrooms,” says Mills.
While the Twin Poets’ topics touch on substantial social issues, Chukwuocha says their goal isn’t to make the audience uncomfortable. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“We want to make individuals comfortable. We make a place of comfort in our art; we can talk about gun violence, young black males and school funding in a place of comfort. You listen to the poem, and we all come up with solutions together,” he says.
Mills, who tends to wake up and write in the morning, says that he and his brother—who winds down at the end of the day to write—will creatively strategize by coming up with a title and building on that. It’s been this way for years. Even when they were boys the twins would collaborate, even while playing basketball and football—challenging each other in a supportive way to make themselves better athletes, better artists and, ultimately, better people, says Mills.
Their synchronicity and support for each other is perhaps most felt, unsurprisingly, during a reading or poetry recitation performance, with “a bond that is engaging and endearing,” says Weagraff.
Says Mills: “The poem becomes us, we give it to the audience with the emotion that was given to us, we try to make sure the picture that we’re painting has a clear message while gauging each other with more than just words—facial and hand expressions. As twins, we’re really in unison.”
For information about upcoming performances, visit artsdel.org/poetlaureate.