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Kentucky Writes: Authors of the Bluegrass State: Kentucky Poets Laureate

The Kentucky Writes guide provides information about authors and writers from Kentucky and their work. This guide seeks to include the earliest authors to contemporary authors.

History of the Kentucky Poet Laureate

The position of Kentucky Poet Laureate was originally established in 1926 by an act of the Kentucky General Assembly. James T. “Cotton” Noe was selected for the position. Prior to 1990, poets laureate were appointed to lifetime terms by the General Assembly. At times several people held the position simultaneously.

In 1990, new legislation was enacted (KRS 153.600) to provide for the gubernatorial appointment of a state poet laureate for a two-year term. The Kentucky Poet Laureate’s duties include promoting the literary arts and leading the state in literary activities, including Kentucky Writers’ Day (KRS 153.620), which is celebrated annually on April 24 to commemorate the birthday of Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren, the first poet laureate of the United States.

The Kentucky Poet Laureate is selected following a public call for nominations coordinated by the Kentucky Arts Council. Nominees for this position must reside in Kentucky, have a long association with the Commonwealth, and have a critically acclaimed published body of work that is informed by living in Kentucky. The word "poet" in the position's title is interpreted in its broadest sense to include writers whose accomplishments are in any literary form. An independent panel reviews the nominations and submits its recommendation to the Governor for appointment.

The new poet laureate is usually inducted on April 24 of odd-numbered years in conjunction with Kentucky Writers’ Day celebrations.

Past Poets Laureate

1926   J.T. “Cotton” Noe

1928   Edward G. Hill*

1942   Louise Phillips

1954   Edwin Carlile Litsey

1954   Jesse Hilton Stuart

1956   Lowell Allen Williams

1974   Lillie D. Chaffin (Associate Poet Laureate)

1976   Senator Tom Mobley

1978   Agnes O’Rear

1984   Soc Clay

1984   Lee Pennington

1984   Paul Salyers

1986   Dale Faughn

1986   Jim Wayne Miller

1986   Henry E. Pilkenton

1990   James H. Patton, Jr.

1995-1996   James Still*

1997-1998   Joy Bale Boone*

1999-2000   Richard Taylor*

2001-2002   James Baker Hall*

2003-2004    Joe Survant*

2005-2006    Sena Jeter Naslund*

2007-2008    Jane Gentry*

2009-2010    Gurney Norman*

2011-2012    Maureen Morehead*

2013-2014    Frank X Walker*

2015-2016    George Ella Lyon*

* Gubernatorial Appointment
Source: Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives and the Kentucky Arts Council.