The South is known nationally and internationally for having produced and inspired some of the great works and authors in American history. From Mark Twain to Jesmyn Ward, Southern writers have written some of the defining works of their generations.
Some states, like Mississippi loom larger in this tradition. Having produced such heavyweights as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and more, the state is renowned for its literary tradition. After all, you can visit Faulkner’s house Rowan Oak at Ole Miss today.
But where does Arkansas fit in? There have been several Arkansas writers who have made waves both recently and in the past. After all, John Grisham is from Arkansas and has set several books in the Natural State. Donald Harrington is a well-known writer who helped establish the MFA program in writing at the University of Arkansas.
But there’s one arena that Arkansas has truly stood out: poetry.
Here are a handful of the poets, who are either from Arkansas or who have made the state their home, who have kept the poetic tradition alive.
Listing Miller Williams’ accomplishments is no easy task. He helped found the University of Arkansas press, was its first director, launched the university’s translation program, and was the father of singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. But that’s not all he did. He was a talent poet himself and published 37 books of both poetry and prose. In fact, he read one of his poems “Of History and Hope at President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration ceremony in 1997.
A precocious student of poetry, Stanford began writing verse at the University of Arkansas, although he never earned a degree. Born in Mississippi, he and his family moved to Arkansas when Frank was young, and he remained there most of his life with brief stays in New York and Missouri. He committed suicide at the age of 29. During his brief life, Stanford published an epic poem, The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You, as well as six smaller books. Several books have been posthumously published. He also established Lost Road Publishers.
Carolyn “C.D.” Wright
Born in Mountain Home, Wright honed her craft at the University of Arkansas in the MFA program. In her career, she published numerous books, including One With Others, which won the National Books Critics Circle Award. Although she was associated with the South through her writing, she spent large parts of her life outside the region. She was a professor at Brown University in Rhode Island. She received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Wright assumed editorship of Lost Road Publishers upon Frank Stanford’s death.
Patricia Spears Jones
Hailing from the eastern side of the state, Patricia Spears Jones is a contemporary poet who is still practicing her craft. Originally from Forrest City, she now lives and works in New York City. She has published four books, as well as a collection of her work.
Cortney Lance Bledsoe
The youngest poet on our list, Bledsoe is a poet from Wynne, who studied creative writing at the University of Arkansas. He continued his studies in creative writing at Hollins University, earning a Masters of Fine Arts. Bledsoe has published four collections of poetry since 2009.