Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced the appointment of Ted Kooser to be the 13th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library's annual literary series on Oct. 7 with a reading of his work. Kooser succeeds Louise Glück.
The author of 10 collections of poetry, most recently "Delights & Shadows" (2004), Kooser was born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939. He earned his bachelor's degree at Iowa State University in 1962 and his master's degree at the University of Nebraska in 1968.
Said Kooser after his appointment: "My poems are about the world I see about me. In my most recent book, for example, there's a poem about a tattooed man I saw at a yard sale [and] a poem about two young women I observed in a cosmetics department … Poetry can offer readers fresh new ways of looking at the ordinary, everyday world."
Kooser's 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. The book was also chosen as the Best Book Written by a Midwestern Writer for 2002 by Friends of American Writers, and it won the Gold Award for Autobiography in ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Awards.
Kooser is also the author, with his longtime friend Jim Harrison, of "Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry" (2003), for which the two poets received the 2003 Award for Poetry from the Society of Midland Authors.
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 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, The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, 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 Library's 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 a national poetry competition for elementary and high school students titled "River of Words." 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 has brought the work of younger poets to larger audiences through the Library's reading series.
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 series and is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position which 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.