Vermont Arts Council

Mary Ruefle Named Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow

There are the poets laureate of cities, counties, and states, and then there are the poets laureate fellows of the American Academy of Poets. The Academy launched the Poets Laureate Fellowship program in 2019 to honor poets appointed to civil positions and enable them to carry out exceptional, impactful work in their communities. In 2020, only 23 poets received the honor, and Vermont’s own Poet Laureate Mary Ruefle is one of them.

Mary Ruefle is the author of many books of poetry, including Dunce (Wave Books, 2019), finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize and longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Whiting Award. Ruefle is the Poet Laureate of Vermont, where she lives in Bennington and taught for over twenty years in the MFA program at Vermont College. In collaboration with the Vermont Arts Council, Ruefle will personally mail out handwritten poems written by other poets to 1,000 residents of Vermont, randomly chosen from the phonebook.

Mary spoke with us following the announcement of her fellowship, offering this statement:

“I was thrilled to receive the grant, both for myself and the state. And the timing couldn’t have been better—I support myself by traveling around the country and giving readings and talks, and my entire 2020 itinerary was canceled. The grant more than made up for the loss, and I did not have to apply for self-unemployment with the state, which makes those precious funds available to others, all of whom, I am sure, are more deserving.

“Arts organizations, like the Arts Council, are absolutely essential at all times, and even more so in times like these. I believe the arts are an essential business; look at it this way—we are not literally saving lives, but do you want to survive a pandemic only to live in a world without art? And as all things are ultimately connected, we could say the same thing about nature.

“I actually began mailing out poems locally before I got the grant, but receiving the grant will enable me to reach my goal of 1,000 poems. I know most will end up in the trash, but I hope 10% of them will reach people whose day will be made a little brighter, richer, deeper.

“And lastly, I want to publicly thank Governor Scott for the terrific job he has done with unfailing energy and courage; we were so lucky to have him in office at this embattled time.”