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June 6, 2003

Governor appoints committee to select new Illinois poet laureate
Takes part in ceremony renaming state library after former poet laureate Gwendolyn Brooks

SPRINGFIELD – At a ceremony in Springfield to rename the state library after Illinois’ former Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced a search committee to find a new Poet Laureate for the State of Illinois.


“Brooks embodied all that poets can do for their communities.  There is no doubt that her poetry was a great gift to Illinois, and to America,” said Blagojevich.  “The loss of this great talent has created a void difficult to fill.  But today I am pleased to announce that we will begin the search for a new Poet Laureate.”


The distinguished position of Illinois Poet Laureate was created in 1936.  Three individuals have held the position since that time:  Howard B. Austin, Carl Sandburg and Gwendolyn Brooks.


The position has remained vacant since Brooks’ death in December of 2000. 


Under the governor’s revised guidelines for the Poet Laureate, what was once a lifetime appointment will now be a four-year renewable term.  The new Poet Laureate must be an Illinois citizen and a distinguished poet, prepared to promote literature and the arts throughout the state.  The new Poet Laureate will agree to provide at least four public readings every year during his or her term.


The governor has assembled a selection committee made up of individuals who each bring a unique perspective on Illinois’ arts and culture.  The committee will be chaired by First Lady Patti Blagojevich.  Other members include:


  • Nora Blakely, daughter of Gwendolyn Brooks and producing artistic director at Chocolate Chips Theatre Company in Chicago;
  • Mary Dempsey, Chicago library commissioner;
  • Henry Kisor, book review editor and book critic for the Chicago Sun Times;
  • Laurence Lieberman, published poet, professor of English and poetry editor for the University Press;
  • Shirley Madigan, chairperson of the Illinois Arts Council;
  • Joseph Parisi, editor of Poetry Magazine;
  • Judy Valente, published poet, national correspondent for PBS, and cultural and religious reporter for WBEZ public radio; and
  • Jean Wilkins, director of the Illinois State Library, now known as the Gwendolyn Brooks Library.

The selection committee, which is being facilitated by the Illinois Arts Council, will review all nominations and present their recommendations to the governor.


“I’ve pulled together a distinguished group of respected writers, literary experts and patrons of the arts to help us find a Poet Laureate who will carry on the great legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks and her predecessors,” said the governor.  “Also, I invite residents from across the state to participate in the search by nominating talented, committed Illinois poets who inspire them most.”


Nominees must be current Illinois residents, must be willing and available to travel throughout the state, and must be published poets with a record of service in Illinois’ literary community.  Self-nominations will not be accepted.  A full description of the position and nominating requirements are available on the governor’s website at www.illinois.gov, or by calling the Illinois Arts Council at (312) 814-4991 or (312) 814-6740.


Nominations may be mailed, emailed or hand delivered to:

The Governor’s Illinois Poet Laureate Review Committee

C/o The Illinois Arts Council

James R. Thompson Center

100 W. Randolph, Suite 10-500

Chicago, IL  60601

Email: rose@arts.state.il.us


Nominations will be accepted until 5 p.m. on July 11.  Gov. Blagojevich will announce the new Poet Laureate in the fall of 2003. 

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