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Southern Poet Laureates 2005

By Joyce Dixon



The poet laureate is a mysterious appointment. There is no uniform term length. It could be two-years in one state and a lifetime appointment in another. Some are appointed by the state legislature, while the governor appoints others.  

This state literary figure composes poems for state events or verse to represent the state for posterity. Do you know who your state poet laureate is?


Alabama. The governor commissions the poet after selection by the Alabama Writers Conclave at their annual conference. The term of office is four years.

Sue Walker.

Sue Brannan Walker teaches English at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. She also edits and publishes a magazine of poetry called Negative Capability. She writes poetry and prose. Her book of poems, Blood Will Bear Your Name , won the Book of the Year award from Alabama State Poetry Magazine. Walker's latest book is a work of nonfiction, In the Realm of Rivers, Alabama's Mobile-Tensaw Delta (NewSouth Books, 2005).




Arkansas. The poet is appointed by the governor from a list submitted by heads of English departments at state universities and colleges. Lifetime appointment.

 Verna Lee Hinegardner.

 Verna Lee Hinegardner was inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame in 1991. She created the poetry form known as 'minute' -- consisting of sixty syllables in rhyming couplets with a syllabic count of 8,4,4,4- 8,4,4,4- 8,4,4,4. She was presented the Sybil Nash Abrams Award in 1973, 1979 and 1991; and received the Arkansas Award of Merit in 1976 and 1988. Hinegardner served as National Convention Chairman for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies in 1977 and 1995.



Florida. The poet is appointed by the governor. Lifetime appointment.

 Dr. Edmund Skellings.

Dr. Skellings is regarded as a pioneer in the use of electronic technology for the arts, humanities, and education. In 1979, he was a nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature and for a Pulitzer Prize. Dr. Skellings was a 1981 Florida Individual Artist Fellowship recipient and received the Florida Arts Recognition Award in 1979. In 1990, Dr. Skellings was appointed founding Director of the Florida Center for Electronic Communication at Florida Atlantic University. A 3D film of computer-animated poetry, called 'SuperPoems' was produced by Dr. Skellings and was presented by the American Film Institute and received recognition worldwide.



Georgia. The governor appoints a laureate from a list of three nominees submitted by the Council for the Arts, for a term concurrent with that of the governor.

David Bottoms.

David Bottoms' first book, Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump, was chosen by Robert Penn Warren as the 1979 winner of the prestigious Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. Dr. Bottoms has received an Ingram Merrill Award, the Levinson Prize of Poetry magazine, an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He is founding coeditor of Five Points.



Kentucky. The governor selects a poet (or other writer) from a list of three names recommended by the Arts Council, along with the Department of Education and the Department of Libraries and Archives. The term is two years.

Sena Jeter Naslund.

Dr. Sena Jeter Naslund holds the position of Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Louisville; and Program Director of the Spalding University Master of Fine Arts in Writing. She is also the editor of the literary magazine, The Louisville Review. Dr. Naslund has lived, taught, and written in Kentucky since 1973. She also has given more than 400 presentations about writing nationally and internationally, and she is under contract with HarperCollins for a new novel about Marie Antoinette. The Alabama native is best known for Ahab's Wife and Four Spirits.


Louisana. The poet is appointed by the governor, for a term concurrent with that of the governor.

Jean McGivney Boese.

Jean McGivney Boese is currently serving her second appointment as Poet Laureate under Governor Foster and her fourth appointment since 1980. Boese composed "Leadership," the official state poem of the Senate of the Legislature of Louisiana. Her poem "Louisiana" was read at the dedication of the State Archives building in 1987.

Maryland. The poet is appointed by the governor on the recommendation of a committee of literary professionals. The term of office is usually three years.

Michael S. Glaser.

Dr. Michael Glaser serves as head of the Division of Arts and Letters and chair of the English Department at St. Mary's College of Maryland. He is a professor of English and co-founded and directs the College's biannual Literary Festival and the annual Voices reading series. Glaser has edited two anthologies of Maryland poets. He has received the Homer Dodge Endowed Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Columbia Merit Award from the Poetry Committee of the Greater Washington, D.C. area for his service to poetry.



Mississippi. Appointment is now by the legislature. Lifetime appointment.

No current poet laureate.


North Carolina. The laureate is appointed by the governor with the advice of a committee assembled by the North Carolina Arts Council. The term of office, formerly lifetime, is now five years.

Kathryn Stripling Byer.

Byer is the author of four collections of poems including Catching Light (2002), Black Shawl (1998), Wildwood Flower (1992) and The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest (1986). Wildwood Flower received the Lamont Poetry Prize for the best second book of poetry from the Academy of American Poets and Black Shawl received the Roanoke-Chowan Award and Brockman-Campbell Award. Catching Light was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry and received the Southeast Booksellers Association Best Book of the Year in Poetry Award in 2003. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and North Carolina Arts Council. Byer also received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2001. 



Oklahoma. The poet is appointed by the governor from lists provided by poetry organizations. The term of office is two years.

Dr. Francine Ringold.

Francine Ringold is the editor in chief of Nimrod, the International Journal of Prose and Poetry. Her book The Trouble with Voices received the Oklahoma Book Award in 1996. Ringold has published two books on creative writing: A Magic Journey: Writing and Painting at Gatesways and Making Your Own Mark: A Guide to Writing and Drawing for Senior Citizens. She produced and was featured in radio programs in the Humanitites on KWGS-FM, NPR. In 2003, Ringold was named Newsmaker of the Year by Women in Communications in Tulsa.



South Carolina. The poet is appointed by the governor. The term of office is not fixed.

Marjory Heath Wentworth.

Marjory Heath Wentworth's poems have appeared in numerous books and magazines, and she has twice been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Nightjars, a chapbook of her poems, was published by Laurel Publishing in 1995. Her poems have been published with Mary Edna Fraser's art in a book of poetry and monotype prints called What the Water Gives Me. Noticing Eden, a collection of poems, was published by Hub City Press in October 2003.




Tennessee. The poet is appointed by the General Assembly. The expiration date of the current laureate's term has not been fixed.

Margaret Britton Vaughn.

Vaughn has published nine books of poetry. She is also a playwright and songwriter. Vaughn lives in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where she works in a storefront office and boasts a scale model of the Statue of Liberty in her front yard. In 1996, Vaughn composed Tennessee's Bicentennial Poem titled Who We Are. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1975 by The Tennessean, Nashville's newspaper, titled 50 Years of Saturday Nights, which focused on Vaughn's love of the 'Grand Old Opry.'



Texas. Each session of the legislature can appoint a commission to select a poet if it chooses to do so.

Dr. Cleatus Rattan.

Cleatus Rattan authored two chapbooks, 130 Miles to Dallas, winner of the 1982 Texas Review Poetry Prize and Free of the Flesh in 1994. In 1996, he received the Mesquite Poetry Award. In 2002, he received the Texas Review Poetry Award for The Border, his first full-length book of poems. That same year, he received The New Texas Poetry Award. A true cowboy poet, Rattan was a former working and rodeo cowboy before beginning his teaching career.




Virginia. The governor can appoint a new laureate for a term of two years, but the term is not currently fixed.

George Garrett.

George Garrett has a long list of honors and is considered an icon of Southern Literature. Among his honors, Garrett has received the Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; the Rome Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the T.S. Eliot Award; and the Commonwealth of Virginia Governor's Award for the Arts. He is best known for his trilogy of historical novels, Death of the Fox (1971), The Succession: A Novel of Elizabeth and James (1983), and Entered from the Sun (1990). George Garrett is currently the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing Emeritus at the University of Virginia.

State Poets Laureate of the United States


2005, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved