California Arts Council

State of California

Kay Ryan of Marin County appointed U.S. Poet Laureate
Quiet Californian given national honor for her unique style and wit

Published: 07-24-2008

Kay Ryan -- a native Californian poet and college remedial English instructor from Marin County -- was named the 16th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, for 2008-2009, by the Library of Congress on July 17.

"Kay Ryan is a distinctive and original voice within the rich variety of contemporary American poetry," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a press statement. "She writes easily understandable short poems on improbable subjects. Within her compact compositions there are many surprises in rhyme and rhythm and in sly wit pointing to subtle wisdom."

Governor Schwarzenegger congratulated Ryan on her appointment through an official statement. "On behalf of all Californians, Maria and I congratulate Kay Ryan on her extraordinary appointment as the nation's Poet Laureate. Her accomplishment highlights the importance of the literary arts and her work will provide both California and the nation with a better understanding and appreciation of poetry and the world we live in."

From the profile of Ryan on the Library of Congress website:

"Ryan was born in 1945 in San Jose, Calif., and grew up in the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. Her father was an oil well driller and sometime-prospector. She received both bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles. Since 1971, Ryan has lived in Marin County. Her partner of 30 years is Carol Adair.

"For more than 30 years, Ryan limited her professional responsibilities to the part-time teaching of remedial English at the College of Marin in Kentfield, Calif., thus leaving much of her life free for "a lot of mountain bike riding plus the idle maunderings poets feed upon." She said at one point that she has never taken a creative writing class, and in a 2004 interview in The Christian Science Monitor, she noted, "I have tried to live very quietly, so I could be happy." ....

"Ryan has written six books of poetry, plus a limited edition artist's book, along with a number of essays. Her books are: Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends (1983), Strangely Marked Metal (Copper Beech, 1985), Flamingo Watching (Copper Beech, 1994), Elephant Rocks (Grove Press,1996), Say Uncle (Grove Press, 2000), Believe It or Not! (2002, Jungle Garden Press, edition of 125 copies), and The Niagara River (Grove Press, 2005).

"Her awards include the Gold Medal for poetry, 2005, from the San Francisco Commonwealth Club; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from The Poetry Foundation in 2004; a Guggenheim fellowship the same year; a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship as well as the Maurice English Poetry Award in 2001; the Union League Poetry Prize in 2000; and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award in 1995. She has won four Pushcart Prizes and has been selected four different years for the annual volumes of the Best American Poetry. Her poems have been widely reprinted and internationally anthologized. Since 2006, she has been a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets."

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