SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Calling the position an “ambassador for the arts in Illinois,” Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today appointed Kevin Stein, an award-winning Bradley University professor, as the state’s fourth poet laureate
“Kevin has translated his life experience into rhyme, rhythm and verse and has the wisdom to know that poetry can have as much a place on the factory floor as it does in the lecture hall,” Blagojevich said in introducing Stein at the Illinois State Library, Gwendolyn Brooks Building, which was named earlier this year for the state’s last poet laureate. “I know you’ll inspire young people to put pen to paper, to translate their experiences and observations into writing as powerful as your own.”
The Governor said Stein, who serves as the Caterpillar Professor of English at Bradley in Peoria, will bring poetry into the daily lives of people throughout the state by launching a poetry Web site aimed at encouraging students to become authors; hosting a monthly radio show devoted to Illinois poets; coordinating statewide poetry competitions among primary, middle and high schools; and serving as an inspiration and teacher.
“We will entrust Kevin to be the caretaker of our literary past,” Blagojevich said. “We’ll also ask him to cultivate our literary future.”
The distinguished position of Illinois Poet Laureate was created in 1936 and three individuals previously have held the position – Howard B. Austin (1936-1962), Carl Sandburg (1962-1967) and Gwendolyn Brooks (1968-2000). The post has been vacant since Brooks, a Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry from Chicago, died in December 2000.
Under the Governor’s revised guidelines for poet laureate, what was once a lifetime appointment will now be a four-year renewable term. Other requirements include that the poet laureate be an
Illinois citizen and a distinguished poet, promote literature and the arts throughout the state, and provide at least four public readings each year during his term.
Stein was recommended to the Governor from 26 persons nominated to a selection committee formed in June and chaired by First Lady Patti Blagojevich.
“I’d like to extend my appreciation to Governor and First Lady Blagojevich for supporting the art of poetry,” Stein said in accepting the position. “Doing so is neither fashionable nor likely to earn wheelbarrows of votes, but it is the right thing to do for our state. I applaud them for their commitment to the arts. Thank you, also, to Bradley University for supporting my nomination and to my family for standing with me along the way.”
Besides the various duties outlined by Blagojevich, Stein also said as poet laureate he will add to the more than 130 poems he already has authored. “For me, it’s as necessary as bread or breath,” he said. “To be true to myself and to this position, I must remain devoted to writing poems.”
The Governor said Stein’s poems are uniquely Illinois and mix satire and stoicism, and provide narratives of hard work and hard knocks.
“In this land of industrial might, his words capture the incandescent sparks of ‘machines in heat’ and the ‘yawning and clanging’ of people at work,” Blagojevich said. “In this land of sprawling plains, this poet’s verse echoes the arresting, bone-penetrating power of a January wind. But in the fact of these realities his musings also warm a reader’s heart – with lines about Miles Davis –
and the ‘shade of calm embodied by a thing we lounge upon.’”
Stein has written five books of poetry, three scholarly books of literary criticism and
has received numerous awards for his poetry, including the 1987 Frederick Brock Prize awarded by Poetry, the 1991 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, the 1992 Devins Award for Poetry and the 1998 Indiana Review Poetry Award. He also was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2001. In addition to his recognition for poetry, Stein is beloved by his students at Bradley, having been voted as Outstanding English Faculty Member four times, and being selected as the Bradley Faculty Member of the Year in 1989.
Besides Mrs. Blagojevich, others who were part of the poet laureate selection committee were:
· Nora Blakely, daughter of former Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks and producing artistic director at Chocolate Chips Theatre Company, Chicago;
· Mark Dempsey, Chicago library commissioner;
· Henry Kisor, book review editor and book critic for the Chicago Sun-Times;
· Laurence Lieberman, published poet, professor of Poetry at the University of Illinois and poetry editor for the University Press;
· Shirley Madigan, chair of the Illinois Arts Council;
· Joseph Parisi, former editor of Poetry Magazine and a poet;
· Judy Valente, published poet, Public Broadcasting Service national correspondent, and cultural and religious reporter for WBEZ public radio; and
· Jean Wilkins, director of the Illinois State Library.