Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory announced the state’s new poet laureate Monday, five months after the previous poet laureate resigned amid controversy over her selection.
Shelby Stephenson, a retired English professor, magazine editor and member of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, will be installed during a public ceremony in February at the State Capitol.
"Shelby Stephenson will represent the literary greatness of our state, especially through his upcoming work with helping nursing home residents express themselves through poetry," McCrory said in a statement. "We recognize that we didn't follow the traditional process during the last selection. However, this time my appointment comes from the strong recommendation of Secretary (of Cultural Resources Susan) Kluttz and the distinguished members of the selection panel. Mr. Stephenson's selection is a reflection of their excellent work, and North Carolina owes them a debt of gratitude."
The governor was referring to his last choice for poet laureate, Valerie Macon, a disability examiner for the state whose poems reflect her interest in helping the homeless.
Her selection in July drew ire from established writers across the state, including the four previous poet laureates, who said she was self-published and lacked a significant body of work to be chosen. Critics also said McCrory picked her without going through the traditional selection process involving the North Carolina Arts Council.
Macon quickly resigned, saying in a letter that she didn’t want the negative attention from her appointment to distract from the post.
Stephenson, who grew up near Benson and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has numerous published poetry collections, including “The Hunger of Freedom,” “Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl,” and “Plankhouse.”
He has also amassed numerous awards, including the Bellday Poetry Prize and the Oscar Arnold Young Award.
“I am thrilled at the choice of Shelby Stephenson as North Carolina’s poet laureate,” Kluttz said in a statement. “He received many strong nominations, backed up by his impressive resume. He is a wonderful representative of the outstanding poets that flourish in our state. I look forward to working with him in the coming years.”
The North Carolina poet laureate serves as an ambassador of the state’s literature, using the office as a platform to promote both the written word and North Carolina writers.