Mississippi Poet Laureate Wins Prestigious Poetry Fellowship

JACKSON, MISS. – May 28, 2020 – The Academy of American Poets announced today that Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi, has been named one of its 2020 Poets Laureate Fellows. Fennelly, a resident of Oxford, will receive $50,000 to support community-based poetry projects.

The 23 individuals named by the Academy serve as Poets Laureate of states, cities, counties, and the Navajo Nation and will be leading civic poetry programs in their respective communities in the year ahead. They will each receive $50,000 for a combined total of $1.1 million.

Beth Ann Fennelly is the author of three poetry collections, including Unmentionables (W. W. Norton, 2008). She currently serves as Mississippi’s fifth poet laureate as well as Professor of English at the University of Mississippi. In collaboration with the Ole Miss Alumni Association, Fennelly will host the 2021 Glitterary Festival, a three-day queer literary festival and celebration to be held in Oxford in April 2021. The festival hopes to bring in a dedicated assistant and a web and marketing staff, as well as expand programming for youth. 

In reacting to the award, Fennelly said, “My goal as Poet Laureate has been to get more poetry in the hands of Mississippians. I’m so thrilled that this fellowship will allow me to accomplish that! The $50K fellowship is given partially in support of my own work and partially in support of the Glitterary Festival, a project I spearheaded during my term as Poet Laureate. The festival, which will celebrate queer literature, will bring esteemed writers to our state and also shine a light on the amazing amount of great writing that has always been nourished in our rich Mississippi soil. It’s a grand tradition to be a part of, and I’m so glad for these four years of serving my state and my fellow Mississippians.”

“Beth Ann is very deserving of this award, and we could not be prouder,” said Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, the state agency that leads the selection process for Mississippi’s Poet Laureate. “She has represented Mississippi well during her tenure as Poet Laureate by both producing excellent creative work and serving the state’s community, particularly its youth, by promoting literacy and the importance of reading literature.”

Through its Poets Laureate Fellowship program, the Academy has become the largest financial supporter of poets in the nation. The fellowship program is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which, in January of this year, awarded the Academy $4.5 million. The award will fund the program in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

“As we face the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more people are turning to poetry for comfort and courage. We are honored and humbled in this moment of great need to fund poets who are talented artists and community organizers, who will most certainly help guide their communities forward,” said Jennifer Benka, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets.

Contact:  Anna Ehrgott | Communications Director | aehrgott@arts.ms.gov | (601) 359-6546