Alabama Symbols, Emblems, and Honors
A poet laureate is a poet honored for his or her artistic excellence. The Alabama Legislature created the office of Poet Laureate of Alabama in 1931. The Alabama Writers' Conclave chooses the poet and then the governor issues official recognitions to the poet laureate. The poet laureate is not paid, but receives a medal to wear from the Writer's Conclave.
Sue Walker, 2002-2012 || Helen Norris, 1999-2002|| Helen Friedman Blackshear, 1995-1999|| Ralph Hammond, 1992-1995|| Morton Dennison Prouty, Jr. 1988-1991|| Carl Patrick Morton, 1983-1987|| William Young Elliott, 1975-1982|| Bert Henderson, 1959-1974|| Mary B. Ward, 1954-1958|| Samuel Minturn Peck, 1930-1938||
Sue Brannan Walker teaches English at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. She qlso edits and publishes a magazine of poetry called Negative Capability. She writes poetry and prose. Her book of poems, Blood Will Bear Your Name, won the Book of the Year award from Alabama State Poetry Magazine.
Helen Norris is a native of Montgomery and a graduate of the University of Alabama with bachelor's and master's degrees. She is the author of four novels, four collections of short stories, and two books of poetry. Many of her stories have been translated into Chinese, Polish, Dutch, and Tamil. She was elected poet laureate by the Alabama Writer's Conclave and officially recognized by Governor Don Siegelman in 1999.
Helen Friedman Blackshear assumed her title as Poet Laureate of Alabama on January 1, 1995. She was officially recognized by the governor on September 27, 1995. Mrs. Blackshear lives in Montgomery where she taught high school English for 35 years. Her works include books of poetry, collections of short stories, and a book about her father's family.
Ralph Hammond was the seventh Poet Laureate of Alabama. Hammond published works about his struggles in World War II and books of poetry. Mr. Hammond served as Governor James "Big Jim" Folsom's press secretary and chief of staff and publicity director for the state. He is also a former mayor of Arab, Alabama. Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama) made Ralph Hammond an honorary doctor of letters. He lives in Arab.
Morton D. Prouty, a native of Illinois, was the sixth Poet Laureate of Alabama. In 1991 the First Presbyterian Church of Florence, AL published a small book of poems, Poems for Peace, which included many of his poems. Morton Dennison Prouty, Jr. a long-time resident of Florence, Alabama, died on October 24, 1992.
Carl Patrick Morton is the fifth person to hold the honorary title of Poet Laureate of Alabama. Mr. Morton was commissioned by Lieutenant Governor William Baxley. Carl Morton was a state and national award winning poet. His work appeared in various poetry journals. Mr. Morton was born in Leeds, Alabama, on June 7, 1920 and he died February 20, 1994 at Helena, Alabama.
William Young Elliott was named Alabama's fourth poet laureate in August 1975. Governor George C. Wallace officially recognized Mr. Elliott. More than 350 of Mr. Elliott's poems, stories, and articles appeared in print. William Elliott lives in Huntsville.
Bert Henderson, Alabama's third poet laureate, was born Elbert Calvin Henderson on November 8, 1903, in Glenwood, Alabama. Governor John Patterson officially recognized Dr. Henderson in a ceremony held on December 21, 1959. He won a national award given by CBS as well as other prizes and awards given by radio. His works were printed in many literary publications. Dr. Henderson died on September 15, 1974.
Mary B. Ward, born in Selma, became the second Poet Laureate of Alabama in June 1954. Governor Gordon Persons officially recognized her on November 21, 1954. Mrs. Ward wrote under many pen names including Linn Latham, Amy Atchison, and Jack Ordway. Her poems appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Saturday Review of Literature, Sewanee Quarterly, The New York Times, and The Washington Star.
Dr. Samuel Minturn Peck, a native of Tuscaloosa, became the first poet laureate on June 12, 1930. Governor Bibb Graves accepted the recommendation of the Alabama Writers' Conclave and the legislature passed the poet laureate bill on March 5, 1931. Dr. Peck's first published work was entitled Caps and Bells, (1886). Dr. Peck also published 25 stories and was widely published in the daily newspapers. Dr. Peck remained Poet Laureate of Alabama until his death on May 3, 1938.
Act 31-92, Acts of Alabama, March 5, 1931
Further information provided by Ann Moon Rabb, Past President of the Alabama Writers' Conclave. Information on the first 4 poets laureate was compiled from the research done by Irma Russell Cruse. Information on the most recent poets laureate compiled from research completed by Ann Moon Rabb, February 12, 1996.
Updated: January 26, 2010