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.
The deadline to submit a nomination is
April 1, 2020. [Extended – Nominations are currently open.]
The next Poet Laureate of Mississippi will be announced in April 2021, when his or her term will begin.
Questions? Contact: Kristen Brandt, Special Initiatives Director, email@example.com or 601.359.6030
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).
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.