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  July 30, 2001

Nelson Honored as State Poet Laureate

Marilyn Nelson has been piling up honors since the new millennium. The professor of English, who received a Guggenheim Fellowship earlier this year, has recently been named the state's new Poet Laureate by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. She has also won a major prize in children's literature.

Nelson will serve a five-year term in the honorary position, which was created by the General Assembly to recognize a Connecticut poet of the highest distinction.

She is the author of six books of poetry, two children's collections, and several chapbooks. Her work has also appeared in numerous anthologies and literary collections.

"Whether she is tracing history with her wonderful insights into the Tuskegee Airmen and George Washington Carver, or recounting the harried day of a mother/professor/wife/ poet, you hear a warm and vital American voice in all of Marilyn's work," says Susan Holmes, artistic programs director at UConn, who nominated Nelson for Poet Laureate.

"It was student excitement about her exceptional teaching and support for young writers, coupled with my own enthusiasm for her memorable readings, that inspired me to nominate Marilyn," Holmes says.

Tom Radko, director of Wesleyan University Press and a member of the selection panel that recommended Nelson to the Commission on the Arts, says her work is "exemplary and accessible. The Poet Laureate has to be a communicator to the public. She will be able to take on the mission of educating people to the value of poetry."

In addition to her new honorary position, Nelson's book, Carver: A Life in Poems, was awarded a 2001 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children's Literature. The biography, in verse, of African-American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver, won in the fiction and poetry category.

Nelson says although the book won the award for children's literature, it is not specifically a book for young people. "I am delighted with the award, but the book is not specifically a children's book," she says. "I aim for accessibility in my poems. I hope it is read and enjoyed by people between nine and 90."

The award will be given to Nelson at the annual meeting of the New England Library Association on Oct. 1, in Burlington, Vt.

The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards are among the most prestigious national honors given to children's and young adult books each year. Three judges evaluate hundreds of books submitted by U.S. publishers.

Other works by Nelson have also earned accolades. Her book The Fields of Praise, was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Award, the PEN Winship Award, and the Lenore Marshall Prize, and won the 1998 Poets' Prize. The Homeplace was a finalist for the 1991 National Book Award and won the 1992 Annisfield-Wolf Award.

Sherry Fisher

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