The poet laureate of the United States is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress. Over the course of the one-year term, which lasts from September to May, the U.S. poet laureate presents a reading and lecture at the Library of Congress and often engages in a community-oriented poetry project with national reach.
This position was originated in 1936 by a philanthropist named Archer M. Huntington, who endowed “a chair of Poetry of the English language in the Library of Congress.” The following year, Joseph Auslander became the first “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.” He served in this role until 1941, when Archibald MacLeish, the Librarian of Congress at the time, instituted a one-year term for the consultantship and appointed Allen Tate as Auslander’s successor.
Poets in this position were called “Consultants in Poetry” through 1986, when the title was officially changed to that of “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.” Since 1950, many poets laureate have also been appointed to serve a second term. (You can find more information about the poet laureateship and former poets laureate at the Library of Congress.)
Beyond the national poet laureateship, there are also numerous poet laureate positions on the state and local levels—including in all but five states, as well as many cities, counties, U.S. territories, and tribal nations.
In 2019, the Academy of American Poets announced the first-ever Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowships, granting a combined $1,050,000 to poets laureate of states, cities, and counties across the United States in recognition of their literary merit and support of their civic programs.
Joy Harjo was appointed the new United States poet laureate in 2019. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1951, Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. She is the author of several books of poetry, including An American Sunrise, which is forthcoming from W. W. Norton in 2019, and Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton, 2015). She is a current Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tracy K. Smith is the author of four poetry collections, including Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018) and Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2012), which received the Pulitzer Prize. She also received the 2014 Academy of American Poets Fellowship. Smith serves as the director of Princeton University's creative writing program and lives in New Jersey.
Juan Felipe Herrera, who served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets at the time of his laureateship, is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Notes on the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015). While the poet laureate, he launched the project La Casa de Colores, which invited people to contribute to an epic poem.
A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999 to 2002, Charles Wright is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Country Music: Selected Early Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1983), which received the National Book Award.
Natasha Trethewey is the author of several collections of poetry, including Monument: Poems New and Selected (Houghton Mifflin, 2018) and Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), which received the Pulitzer Prize. The recipient of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, she was appointed a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2019.
Philip Levine was born in 1928. Over the course of his career, he received the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the Wallace Stevens Award, among numerous other honors and awards. A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he died in 2015.
Born in 1927, W. S. Merwin was the author of numerous collections of poetry, including The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2008) and The Carrier of Ladders (Atheneum, 2970), both of which received the Pulitzer Prize. Merwin, who also received the Wallace Stevens Award and the Shelley Memorial Award, among many others, served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and died in 2019.
Kay Ryan has published several 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. A recipient of a National Humanities Medal, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors, she is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Charles Simic has published more than sixty books in the United States and abroad including Selected Poems: 1963-2003 (Faber and Faber, 2004), which received the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990, Simic was chosen to receive the Academy Fellowship and elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Donald Hall's first collection Exiles and Marriages (Viking Press), was the Academy of American Poet's Lamont Poetry Selection for 1956. His other works include Without: Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998), which received the 1999 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award, and The One Day (Mariner Books, 1988), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
Ted Kooser is the author of twelve collections of poetry, including Delights & Shadows (Copper Canyon Press, 2004), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 and Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000), which won the 2001 Nebraska Book Award for poetry. His honors and awards include two NEA fellowships in poetry, a Pushcart Prize, the Stanley Kunitz Prize from Columbia, and a Merit Award from the Nebraska Arts Council.
Louise Glück is the author of numerous books of poetry, most recently, Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), which won the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry, Averno (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006), a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry and Vita Nova (Ecco Press, 1999), winner of Boston Book Review's Bingham Poetry Prize and The New Yorker's Book Award in Poetry. In 2008, Glück was selected to receive the Wallace Stevens Award for mastery in the art of poetry.
Billy Collins is the author of several books of poetry, including Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems (Random House, 2013), Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems (Random House, 2012), The Art of Drowning (1995), which was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and Questions About Angels (1991), which was selected by Edward Hirsch for the National Poetry Series. He is the recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.
2000–2001 (2nd time)
Stanley Kunitz's recent books include: The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton, 2000), Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected (1995), which won the National Book Award, The Poems of Stanley Kunitz, 1928-1978, which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and Selected Poems, 1928-1958, which won the Pulitzer Prize. His honors include a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the National Medal of the Arts, and the Shelley Memorial Award.
Rita Dove, Louise Glück, and W.S. Merwin were chosen to serve as poets laureate during this year.
Robert Pinsky is the author of several books of prose and poetry, including The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1996), which received the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee, The Want Bone (1990), and The Sounds of Poetry (1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The recipient of the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, he served as a Chancellor for The Academy of American Poets from 2004 to 2010.
Robert Hass's books of poetry include Time and Materials (2007), which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Sun Under Wood: New Poems (Ecco Press, 1996), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Praise (Ecco Press, 1979), which won the William Carlos Williams Award. Hass received the 2014 Wallace Stevens Award for proven mastery in the art of poetry by the Academy of American Poets.
Rita Dove's books of poetry include Collected Poems 1974–2004 (W. W. Norton, 2016), Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009), and On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the recipient of many honors including the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry and the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2005 to 2011.