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April 7, 2005

Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, Appointed to Serve a Second Term, Will Close Library's Literary Season on May 5

Kooser Is Winner of Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has appointed Ted Kooser to serve a second term as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. For the conclusion of his first term, Kooser will deliver a lecture, at 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, May 5, in the Montpelier Room, on the sixth floor of the Library’s Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.

"We are delighted that Ted Kooser has agreed to serve a second year," said Billington. "His dedication and initiatives are already attracting new audiences to poetry."

On April 4, Kooser received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book, "Delights and Shadows" (Copper Canyon Press, 2004).

During his first term as Poet Laureate, Kooser, with the support of the Poetry Foundation, inaugurated the program "American Life in Poetry" (www.americanlifeinpoetry.org), which offers a free weekly column to local newspapers around the country. It features a brief poem by a living American and a sentence or two of introduction by Kooser. This initiative offers the chance for poets to reach tens of thousands of readers.

Born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939, Kooser earned his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University in 1962 and his master’s at the University of Nebraska in 1968. His other collections of poetry include "Sure Signs" (1980), which received the Society of Midland Authors Prize for the best book of poetry by a Midwestern writer published in that year; "One World at a Time" (1985); "Weather Central" (1994); and "Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison" (2000), winner of the 2001 Nebraska Book Award for Poetry. A book of his essays, "Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps" (2002), won the Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction in 2003 and third place in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award in Nonfiction for 2002. Friends of American Writers selected "Local Wonders" as the best book written by a Midwestern writer for 2002, and the book also won ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award for autobiography. He is the author, with his longtime friend Jim Harrison, of "Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry" (2003).

Among Kooser’s other awards and honors are two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Pushcart Prize, the Stanley Kunitz Prize, the James Boatwright Prize and a merit award from the Nebraska Arts Council. He is editor and publisher of Windflower Press, a small press specializing in contemporary poetry. He teaches as a visiting professor in the English department of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Background of the Laureateship

The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, in order to permit incumbents to work on their own projects while at the Library. Each brings a new emphasis to the position. Allen Tate (1943-44), for example, served as editor of the Library's publication of that period, Quarterly Journal, during his tenure and edited the compilation "Sixty American Poets, 1896-1944." Some consultants have suggested and chaired literary festivals and conferences; others have spoken in a number of schools and universities and received the public in the Poetry Room.

Increasingly in recent years, the incumbents have sought to find new ways to broaden the role of poetry in our national life. Maxine Kumin initiated a popular women's series of poetry workshops at the Poetry and Literature Center. Gwendolyn Brooks met with groups of elementary school children to encourage them to write poetry. Howard Nemerov conducted seminars at the Library for high school English classes. Most incumbents have furthered the development of the Library's Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in public places--supermarkets, hotels, airports, and hospitals. Rita Dove brought a program of poetry and jazz to the Library's literary series, along with a reading by young Crow Indian poets and a two-day conference titled "Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora," featuring panel discussions, readings and music. Robert Hass sponsored a major conference on nature writing called "Watershed," which continues today as the "River of Words" national poetry competition for elementary and high school students. Robert Pinsky initiated his Favorite Poem Project, which energized a nation of poetry readers to share their favorite poems in readings across the country and in audio and video recordings. Billy Collins instituted the Web site Poetry180, designed to bring a poem a day into high school classrooms. Most recently, Louise Glück brought the work of younger poets to larger audiences through the Library’s reading series.

Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service are listed below:

  • Joseph Auslander 1937-41
  • Allen Tate 1943-44
  • Robert Penn Warren 1944-45
  • Louise Bogan 1945-46
  • Karl Shapiro 1946-47
  • Robert Lowell 1947-48
  • Leonie Adams 1948-49
  • Elizabeth Bishop 1949-50
  • Conrad Aiken 1950-52 First to serve two terms
  • William Carlos Williams Appointed in 1952 but did not serve
  • Randall Jarrell 1956-58
  • Robert Frost 1958-59
  • Richard Eberhart 1959-61
  • Louis Untermeyer 1961-63
  • Howard Nemerov 1963-64
  • Reed Whittemore 1964-65
  • Stephen Spender 1965-66
  • James Dickey 1966-68
  • William Jay Smith 1968-70
  • William Stafford 1970-71
  • Josephine Jacobsen 1971-73
  • Daniel Hoffman 1973-74
  • Stanley Kunitz 1974-76
  • Robert Hayden 1976-78
  • William Meredith 1978-80
  • Maxine Kumin 1981-82
  • Anthony Hecht 1982-84
  • Robert Fitzgerald 1984-85 Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to the Library.
  • Reed Whittemore 1984-85 Interim Consultant in Poetry
  • Gwendolyn Brooks 1985-86
  • Robert Penn Warren 1986-87 First to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
  • Richard Wilbur 1987-88
  • Howard Nemerov 1988-90
  • Mark Strand 1990-91
  • Joseph Brodsky 1991-92
  • Mona Van Duyn 1992-93
  • Rita Dove 1993-95
  • Robert Hass 1995-97
  • Robert Pinsky 1997-2000
  • Stanley Kunitz 2000-2001
  • Billy Collins 2001-2003
  • Louise Glück 2003-2004

The poetry and literature reading series at the Library of Congress is the oldest in the Washington, D.C., area, and among the oldest in the United States. This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s and has been almost exclusively supported since 1951 by a gift from the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who wanted to bring the appreciation of good literature to a larger audience.

The Poetry and Literature Center administers the reading series and is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series and plans other special literary events during the reading season.

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PR 05-089
04/07/05
ISSN 0731-3527

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