Raleigh―Shelby Stephenson, of Benson, has been named North Carolina’s eighth Poet Laureate.
Stephenson was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in October. He was an English professor at UNC Pembroke and editor of Pembroke Magazine until his retirement in 2010. Winner of numerous awards, including the 2001 North Carolina Award in Literature, he has published many collections of poems. Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl, won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize; his newest poetry chapbook is Steal Away (Jacar Press).
"This is great news for North Carolina,” said Ed Southern, Executive Director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. “Even if I had never been to Johnston County, or anywhere east of Burlington, I would have a clear picture of it in my mind, just from having read Shelby's poetry. Shelby himself is warm and generous, almost to a fault. Our state and its writers could ask for no better ambassador."
The poet laureate is appointed by the governor of North Carolina and typically serves a two-year term, renewable at the governor’s discretion. Each state poet laureate usually shapes the position based on his or her own strengths through a long-term project or program of special interest.
Stephenson plans to implement three programs during his time as poet laureate: leading writing workshops in assisted living and retirement homes; raising awareness of using archives; and promoting writing about farming.
The North Carolina poet laureate acts as an ambassador of NC literature, using the office as a platform from which to promote NC writers and the potentially transformative qualities of poetry and the written word. Stephenson was chosen after a panel of literary experts, and state Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz, reviewed nominations.
He will be installed at a ceremony in February.
“I think the choice is brilliant, and I am rejoicing in the news,” former state poet laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer said. “Shelby is a longtime friend, a powerful voice in North Carolina literature. A singer, an old-time raconteur, a poet attuned to the rhythms of our state and its people. I offer my joyful congratulations to one of our state's literary treasures. This is a splendid Christmas gift to North Carolinians, all of us. And for those who keep saying they don't like poetry, just wait till you hear Shelby. You will change your mind in a flash.”
To watch Stephenson read from his collection, Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl, click here.
To watch Barbara Braveboy-Locklear read his poem, “Their Praise,” click here.
Learn more about Stephenson on his website, www.shelbystephenson.com.