As of April 26, Oregon has a new Poet Laureate! Governor John A. Kitzhaber appointed Peter Sears of Corvallis, who was recommended by a panel of 20 poets, writers, heritage and humanities experts assembled by the five Oregon Cultural Trust partners – Oregon Heritage, Oregon Humanities, Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Historical Society and the State Historic Preservation Office. Nominations were accepted in a public process managed by Oregon Humanities last winter.
Sears succeeds Oregon’s sixth Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen, who served four years, or two terms, in the post, having traveled more than 25,000 miles to give readings, workshops and poetry presentations at schools, libraries and community centers throughout Oregon. The Oregon Cultural Trust is grateful for Paulann’s hard work, warmth and dedication to making poetry accessible across topographical, racial and socio-economic divides. Thank you, Paulann!
Sears will now bring his own voice and style to Oregon as our state’s seventh poet laureate, including fostering partnerships with local poets for readings and workshops.
A Yale and Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate (BA in English and MFA in Poetry, respectively), Sears is no stranger to teaching and sharing his craft. He came to Oregon in 1974 as writer-in-residence at Reed College and has taught in the low-residency MFA at Pacific University, and currently teaches at Mountain Writers and Portland Community College’s Hillsboro Center. He has also served as Dean of Students at Bard College. A deep dedication to accessible literary arts led to his service as community services coordinator for the Oregon Arts Commission and director of the Oregon Literary Coalition, which he founded in 1993.
Sears has penned four full-length poetry collections—Tour (1987), The Brink (1999), and Green Diver (2009)—as well as several chapbooks and books on teaching writing. A fourth collection, Small Talk: New and Selected Poems, will be published by Lynx House Press this year.
An award winning poet, he received the Stewart A. Holbrook Award for Contribution to Oregon Literary Life from Literary Arts in 1999 and the Western States Book Award for Poetry from the Western States Arts Federation in 2000.
The Oregon Poet Laureate came into existence in 1921, with the appointment of Edwin Charles Markham, who held the post for 19 years. William Stafford, was, quite possibly Oregon’s most famous Poet Laureate, from 1974 to 1989. The program went dormant in 1989 and the post was vacant for 17 years, until the Cultural Trust began funding it in 2006. Lawson Inada was chosen that year as Oregon’s fifth Poet Laureate and served until 2010, when Petersen was appointed. The Trust, Oregon Humanities and the Governor’s Office recently agreed to limit any one poet laureate to one, two-year term.