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Dr. Gwen Nell Westerman holds a BA and MA in English from Oklahoma State University, and a PhD in English from the University of Kansas.
Westerman is the author of Follow the Blackbirds (Michigan State University Press, 2013), a poetry collection written in Dakota and English, and co-author of Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012), which won a 2013 Minnesota Book Award and a 2014 Hognander Minnesota History Award. The recipient of the Douglass R. Moore Faculty Research Award and three Artist Initiative Grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Westerman is the first indigenous poet laureate of Minnesota.
Westerman teaches American and Native Nations literature, technical communication, and humanities at Minnesota State University, Mankato. In 2022, Westerman received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship.
In 2022, Gwen Westerman was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. In collaboration with the Minnesota Center for the Book, Westerman will engage underserved Minnesota youth in grades five through eight with art and nature through three summer workshops at regional state parks, where students will write poetry about their relationships to the land. Westerman will work with poet Michael Torres, as well as graduate students in the creative writing program at Minnesota State University, to bring these young people to inspiring landscapes. She will encourage the students to write poems in English and their home languages on the beauty of the state parks. In addition to the three workshops, there will be a state-wide call for students to write a poem about their favorite state park that will be part of a digital anthology that includes the poems from the summer workshops. The anthology will be published through a free, online resource: MN Writes MN Reads. Poetry in the Parks will be promoted widely through both statewide and local networks.