Gianna Russo, assistant professor of English and creative writing at University Campus, has been named the city of Tampa's first Wordsmith. The appointment springs from Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's plan to bring more arts programs, workshops, and artists into city neighborhoods.
Russo will also be asked to work on some city-wide projects during her two-year term. This work is familiar terrain for Russo, both geographically and creatively.
She is a Tampa native who joined the faculty at Saint Leo in 2011. In addition to her classroom duties, she edits the university's literary and arts review magazine, Sandhill Review. She also founded and directs the Sandhill Writers Retreat, an early summer event that offers classes and workshops to the general public and university community, featuring accomplished writers from many difference genres.
Russo serves, as well, as the poet-in-residence for another Saint Leo publication, REBUS magazine. It is published annually by the College of Arts and Sciences to showcase creative and scholarly contributions that explore, from a variety of perspectives, one specific theme, such as light, or time, or food.
She said she is excited to have the chance to work for Tampa's residents, too. "The possibilities for bringing creative expression into our daily lives are endless and exciting," Russo said. "At its core, all writing grapples with the question 'What does it means to be human?' As Wordsmith, I look forward to helping my fellow Tampa residents and visitors write their own poems, stories and essays and answer that age-old question for themselves."
Dr. Mary Spoto, Saint Leo vice president of academic affairs, is also happy that that Tampa is employing Russo's enthusiasm and abilities. "Gianna has long played a central role at the university and beyond in bringing a love and appreciation of language and literature to our community, to Tampa, and to the region," Spoto said. "Her contributions to the university have been invaluable, and we are thrilled to see these talents applied to her new role as Tampa's Wordsmith."
Russo's recent books
The author's own most recent collection of poetry, One House Down, was published in 2019 and captures elements of day-to-day life in Tampa during earlier and recent decades.
Russo has also edited a more recent work of Florida interest called Chasing Light. It is a volume of poems from a wide variety of authors who worked from the inspiration provided by specific black-and-white photographs. The images were drawn from a collection of works by Tampa's leading commercial photographic firm from 1917 to the early 1960s, the Burgert Brothers Inc. Russo collaborated on the project with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library, which now owns the images, and supporters of the library system. Russo contributed the forward to the collection and a poem. A number of other Saint Leo poets have work in the volume, as well.
Although Russo is on sabbatical during the current semester, the assistant professor is still carrying on her duties for Sandhill Review, which will be released in the spring.
She also gave an interview to Colette Bancroft, the book editor at the Tampa Bay Times.