Kay Ryan

poet laureate icon
1945 –
Poet Laureate of the United States, 2008–2010

Born in California on September 21, 1945, Kay Ryan grew up in the small towns of the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. She received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from UCLA.

Ryan has published numerous collections of poetry, including The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press, 2010), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2011; The Niagara River (Grove Press, 2005); Say Uncle (Grove Press, 2000); Elephant Rocks (Grove Press, 1996); Flamingo Watching (Copper Beech Press, 1994), which was a finalist for both the Lamont Poetry Selection and the Lenore Marshall Prize; Strangely Marked Metal (Copper Beech Press, 1985); and Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends (Taylor Street Press, 1983).

About Ryan’s work, J. D. McClatchy has said:

Her poems are compact, exhilarating, strange affairs, like Erik Satie miniatures or Joseph Cornell boxes. She is an anomaly in today’s literary culture: as intense and elliptical as Dickinson, as buoyant and rueful as Frost.

Ryan’s awards include a National Humanities Medal, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Union League Poetry Prize, the Maurice English Poetry Award, and three Pushcart Prizes. Her work has been selected four times for The Best American Poetry and was included in The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988–1997. One of her poems has been permanently installed at New York’s Central Park Zoo.

Ryan was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006. In 2008, she was appointed the sixteenth U.S. poet laureate. Since 1971, she has lived in Marin County in California.