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Regional Interests

Janice Mirikitani, Glide Co-Founder and SF Poet Laureate, Dies

Janice Mirikitani, a beloved San Francisco poet laureate who together with her husband ran the city’s Glide Memorial Church, which caters to the poor and homeless, has died. She was 80.

Mirikitani died suddenly Thursday, the church confirmed in a message to supporters who were scheduled to attend a virtual justice event later in the day, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Calling it “sad and sudden,” the church said she died early in the morning with family and friends at her side, but did not specify the cause.

“We lost a legend today, the First Lady of the Tenderloin, a poet, someone who loved people, all people, and had endless compassion, grace, and vision. Rest in power, Dr. Janice Mirikitani,” San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney wrote in a tweet on Thursday.

Mirikitani was married to the Rev. Cecil Williams, who transformed Glide Memorial Church, in the heart of the city’s largely poor Tenderloin neighborhood, from a traditional Methodist church to a decidedly liberal one that advocated for gay rights and welcomed members from all walks of life.

“Jan Mirikitani was one of our City’s true lights. She was a visionary, a revolutionary artist, and the very embodiment of San Francisco’s compassionate spirit,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “She served our most vulnerable residents for decades and provided a place of refuge and love for all.”

Mirikitani joined Glide Memorial Church in 1964, a year after Williams arrived in San Francisco to lead the church. With her help, he transformed services into “celebrations” and started a wide range of community programs. With nearly 10,000 members, Glide became the largest Methodist church in Northern California and one of the largest in the nation.

Mirikitani led the Glide Foundation and was executive director of the Janice Mirikitani-Glide Family Youth and Child Care Center.

“Janice was a force of nature,” Glide President and CEO Karen Hanrahan said. “She was fearless and transformational in the honesty with which she loved us all and held us all accountable. Janice’s legacy and her unique, powerful voice is all around us. It will continue to inspire Glide’s work as we transform hearts and minds, and the landscape of poverty and homelessness, in San Francisco.”

Mirikitani, a third-generation Japanese American, was named San Francisco’s poet laureate in 2000, succeeding Beat legend Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who became the city’s first poet laureate in 1998.

She was the daughter of Japanese American chicken farmers from Petaluma. She was 1-year-old when her family was swept up in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s controversial decision to intern Japanese Americans during World War II. Mirikitani and her parents were sent off to a camp in Arkansas. That experience informed a lot of her poetry.

“For me, the role of poet is as a voice to connect with the community,” said Mirikitani, who published four books of poetry. “What’s great about San Francisco is its diversity. It’s the mecca for diversity, and that’s what turns me on about being the laureate,” she told the newspaper after her naming.

Copyright 2021 KQED