Poetry Sought to Honor Marshall “Major” Taylor

Indiana Humanities, in partnership with the Arts Council of Indianapolis, seeks to commission an Indiana-based poet to write an original poem inspired by the life, career, and legacy of Marshall “Major”…

Indiana Humanities, in partnership with the Arts Council of Indianapolis, seeks to commission an Indiana-based poet to write an original poem inspired by the life, career, and legacy of Marshall “Major” Taylor. The poem will accompany a new mural of the famous cyclist that will be installed during the summer of 2021 as part of the Arts Council’s Bicentennial Legends mural project.


COMMISSION:  $1,000 (plus appearance/reading fees)

ELIGIBILITY: Any poet age 18 or over and living in Indiana at the time of application

DEADLINE: Apply by March 31, 2021. If commissioned, poem must be completed by June 15.


Project Overview

In 1899 Marshall “Major” Taylor, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, became the first African American world-champion professional cyclist and only the second African American world champion in any sport. He was also the U.S. sprint championship in 1899 and 1900, and became a pioneering role model for other athletes facing racial discrimination.

The commissioned poem should aim to bring further context and understanding to the life of Major Taylor, allowing readers to experience the struggles and triumphs of Taylor’s remarkable life. The poem will be posted alongside the mural, with hopes that visitors to the mural will read and reflect, finding connection and inspiration in Taylor’s life through the written word.


About the Mural

The Arts Council identified Major Taylor as the first Bicentennial Legends portrait mural subject, and is commissioning the mural in partnership with the Major Taylor Coalition, an informal group of central Indiana residents who are passionate about seeing Taylor honored in his hometown.

The mural will be installed in 2021 on the east wall of the Barnes & Thornburg building, 11 S. Meridian St. Lead funding support is provided by the City of Indianapolis Bicentennial CommissionBarnes & ThornburgGlick Philanthropies, the CIBA Foundation Inc., and public donations to the Major Taylor Coalition, which will be matched by SRAM Corporation.

The Major Taylor Coalition has articulated the following goals for the mural, which are the goals of the commissioned poem as well:

  • People should be drawn to him because of this portrait, understand that he is significant, and to want to learn more about him.
  • People should feel his ​intensity​, his intelligence, and his power; but at the same time, they should also see him as approachable, and, ultimately, knowable.
  • They should understand that he was triumphant and dignified; restrained but strong.
  • People should feel a sense of peace while feeling his struggle.
  • This work should honor his legacy and inspire people to follow him–in racial justice work, in athleticism, and in pure humanity.

For more information about Taylor’s life and work, please review these collected resources.



This commission carries a fee of $1,000. In addition to the fee, there may be opportunities for performances and readings of the poem at programs related to the mural. Additional compensation for readings and performances will be offered as those programs are developed.



To be considered for this commission, please provide the following materials:

  • brief letter describing your interest in the project and your preliminary vision for the poem. Do not submit a poem about Taylor at this time!  Here are a few questions you might consider addressing in the letter:
    • Why do I want to take on this project?
    • What do I find compelling about Taylor’s life and work?
    • What do I hope readers would take away from my poem?
    • How can poetry help readers get a better understanding of Taylor’s life, in a way that complements the mural?
  • writing sample, including 5-8 previous poems you believe would help a committee of reviewers get a sense of your poetic style and approach.
  • Be sure you provide your name and contact information with your materials!



Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Send all application materials as a single PDF or Word document via email to Megan Telligman, mtelligman@indianahumanities.org.

Applicants will be notified of the committee’s decision in mid-April. The poem must be completed by June 15, 2021 and will be unveiled alongside the mural at a ceremony during the summer of 2021.

Questions? Contact Megan Telligman, mtelligman@indianahumanities.org or 317.616.9409.