Mississippi’s Poet Laureate serves as the official state poet, creating and reading appropriate poetry at state occasions and state agency activities and represents the rich cultural heritage of Mississippi. In 1963, Maude Willard Leet Prenshaw was named the first Poet Laureate of Mississippi, then a lifetime position. Starting in 2011, the Governor’s Office, in partnership with the Mississippi Arts Commission and Mississippi’s other cultural agencies, instituted a four-year term for the state’s poet laureate, starting with Natasha Trethewey, who served from 2012 to 2016.

Beth Ann Fennelly is the current laureate, whose term will expire in 2020.

Nominate a Poet

Led by the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Poet Laureate Selection Panel is now accepting nominations for the state’s next Poet Laureate. Nominations from the general public as well as self-nominations will be accepted.

Nomination Form

The deadline to submit a nomination is February 15, 2021

The next Poet Laureate of Mississippi will be announced in April 2021, when his or her term will begin.

Questions? Contact: Kristen Brandt, Arts Industry Director, kbrandt@arts.ms.gov or 601.359.6075

Position Criteria and Expectations

The Mississippi Poet Laureate is an honorary position, and the selected individual must meet the following criteria to be eligible for consideration:

  • Be either born or domiciled in Mississippi at the time of nomination;
  • Possess a body of quality works;
  • Have works widely published in books, anthologies, literary journals or magazines by recognized, reputable publishers; (please cite sources in bibliography);
  • Reflect the essence and unique cultural heritage of Mississippi;
  • Be available to travel and actively serve in the state;
  • Be available for a personal interview with the Poet Laureate Selection Committee (if selected as a potential finalist).

Position Expectations: 

1. To serve as the official state poet, creating and reading appropriate poetry upon state occasions and state agency activities;

2. To represent the rich cultural heritage of Mississippi;

3. To help identify Mississippi poets, write poetry, promote literacy and the literary arts by attending events and speaking with schools and organizations

4. To serve as the Honorary Host of the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud initiative in Mississippi;

5. To serve as a Mississippi Arts Commission Teaching Artist

Selection Process and Panel

Nominations are reviewed by the Mississippi Poet Laureate Selection Panel, an advisory council consisting of representatives from the state’s cultural agencies and professionals in the literary community. After reviewing nominations, the Selection Panel convenes to interview the finalists and submit a list of persons qualified and eligible for the position to the Governor’s office. The Governor considers these recommendations in making the final selection. In addition to a widely-published poet from Mississippi and a professor of literature from a Mississippi university or college, members of the panel include representatives from the following organizations:

  • Mississippi Arts Commission (chair)
  • University Press of Mississippi
  • Mississippi Humanities Council
  • Mississippi Department of Archives and History
  • Mississippi Library Commission

Mississippi’s Past Poet Laureates

Beth Ann Fennelley – 2016 – 2020

Natasha Trethewey – 2012 – 2016

Winifred Hamrick Farrar – 1978 – 2010

Louise Moss Montgomery- 1973 – 1978

Maude Willard Leet Prenshaw – 1963 – 1973

Photo credit of typewriter image: Tom Joynt.