By: EDEN BROWN
University of Mary Washington alumna, class of ’61, Kelly Cherry has been named Virginia’s newest Poet Laureate, directly succeeding Claudia Emerson who held the title for the past two years.
Emerson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a professor of English and creative writing at UMW.
Another alumna, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, class of ’69, served as Virginia’s Poet Laureate from 2006-2008.
Cherry has published 19 books of fiction, eight clapbooks and two translations of classical dramas. Many of her works have been reprinted in the anthology Best American Short Stories.
Her most recent work is a book of poems called “The Retreats of Thought,” made up of a series of sonnets about philosophy.
Cherry is also the first recipient of the Hanes Poetry Prize issued by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, as well as the recipient of three PEN/Syndicated Fiction Awards, and the Dictionary of Literary Biography Award for the best volume of short stories published in 1999.
When asked what this prestigious award meant to her, Cherry said, “the Poet Laureate distinction is an honor, and I am proud to join my predecessors on this list.”
“The position offers me an opportunity to spread the word about poetry in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Cherry said.
Cherry graduated from UMW with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the university.
Cherry did graduate work in philosophy at the University of Virginia and obtained a masters degree in fine arts from University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
In a recent press release, Cherry commented on the fact that being a resident of Virginia and alumna of UMW has had an impact on her writing.
“You look out the window and you see what you see,” she wrote. “You listen to the language and you hear what you hear. And all of it goes into one’s work.”
According to the Library of Congress, this honorary position was first established in 1936, and in 1998 the Governor began appointing a poet from nominees that were submitted by the Poetry Society of Virginia.
This designation allowed the appointed poet to serve a two-year term without restrictions on reappointment. This position was created to help promote greater appreciation for poetry throughout Virginia.