Contact: Anna Ehrgott
JACKSON, Miss.—Gov. Tate Reeves has appointed accomplished poet and educator Catherine Pierce of Starkville as Mississippi’s Poet Laureate. Serving as the official state poet for a term of four years, the state’s Poet Laureate creates and reads appropriate poetry at state occasions, promotes literacy and represents the rich cultural heritage of Mississippi. An English professor at Mississippi State University, Pierce co-directs MSU's creative writing program and has published four books of poems and a chapbook.
“It is with great pleasure that the First Lady and I announce Catherine Pierce of Starkville as Mississippi’s Poet Laureate,” Reeves said. “We are confident Dr. Pierce will continue to foster a love of poetry and literature throughout Mississippi in this role.”
MSU President Mark E. Keenum said, “I am so very proud of Dr. Catherine Pierce for earning this designation from Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and the Mississippi Arts Commission. Dr. Pierce richly deserves this honor and her selection speaks volumes to the quality of our faculty and the opportunities our students have to interact with talented, accomplished educators in our classrooms.”
Originally from Delaware, Pierce made her home in Mississippi in 2007 when she joined the faculty at Mississippi State University. Her conviction that “poetry is for everyone” drives her to amplify poetic voices and develop opportunities for others to experience poetry.
She is the author of four full-length poetry collections including Danger Days (2020), The Tornado Is the World (2016), The Girls of Peculiar (2012) and Famous Last Words (2008), all from Saturnalia Books. A chapbook, Animals of Habit (Kent State University Press), was published in 2004. Pierce’s work has appeared in well-known publications such as The Best American Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New England Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review and The New York Times.
“Catherine Pierce has crafted an amazing body of work and has earned the impressive accolades one might expect of a Poet Laureate, but what makes her so compelling as Mississippi’s next Poet Laureate is her ideal that poetry should be accessible for everyone,” said Sarah Story, executive director of Mississippi Arts Commission. “She will be well-suited as an ambassador for the state as well as a champion for literacy. We are thrilled about the possibilities for her in this role.”
Pierce received a 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and two Pushcart Prizes in 2019 and 2021. Each of her most recent three books won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Prize; Famous Last Words won the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. Her work has also been recognized with two Literary Artist Fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission.
“I am honored and genuinely thrilled to have been named the next Poet Laureate of Mississippi, and to have the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for poetry and the literary arts,” Pierce said. “I’ve long counted myself tremendously lucky to be a part of Mississippi’s dynamic community of writers and artists and citizens, and I am so looking forward to continuing to connect with people across our state, to working with our excellent arts and literary organizations and our incredible educators, and to helping amplify the voices of Mississippians.”
Pierce earned her B.A. from Susquehanna University, her M.F.A. from the Ohio State University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. Pierce succeeds Beth Ann Fennelly of Oxford as the state’s Poet Laureate.
Nominations for Mississippi’s Poet Laureate are submitted by the public and reviewed by the Mississippi Poet Laureate Selection Panel, consisting of representatives from cultural agencies and professionals in the literary community.
The 2021 Mississippi Poet Laureate Selection Panel, facilitated by Kristen Brandt of the Mississippi Arts Commission, were Tracy Carr of the Mississippi Library Commission; Beth Ann Fennelly, outgoing Mississippi Poet Laureate; Lauren Rhoades of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Stuart Rockoff of the Mississippi Humanities Council; Steve Yates of the University Press of Mississippi; and John Zheng of Mississippi Valley State University. The panel recommended the names of three finalists from which the Governor made his selection. Pierce’s term as Poet Laureate will expire April 15, 2025.
For more information about Mississippi’s Poet Laureate, visit arts.ms.gov/poetlaureate.
The Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) is a state agency serving more than two million people through grants and special initiatives that enhance communities, assist artists and arts organizations, promote arts education and celebrate Mississippi’s cultural heritage. MAC is funded by the Mississippi Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Endowment for the Arts at the Community Foundation for Mississippi and other private sources. For more information, visit www.arts.ms.gov.