- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi’s new poet laureate says her mission is to “get poetry in front of as many Mississippians as possible.”

Beth Ann Fennelly was introduced in the new role Wednesday at the state Capitol.

Gov. Phil Bryant chose her from among three finalists recommended by a committee. She is the state’s fifth poet laureate since the position was created in 1963, and succeeds Natasha Trethewey, who had held the honorary post since 2010.

Fennelly, 45, is an English professor and has been director of the masters of fine arts program at the University of Mississippi for the past six years, teaching poetry and nonfiction writing. She has published three collections of poetry and one nonfiction book. She and her husband, novelist Tom Franklin, co-wrote a novel that was published in 2013. Her sixth book, “Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs,” is set for release in 2017.

Fennelly was born in New Jersey and raised in the Chicago area, and moved to the South when she started graduate school at the University of Arkansas in 1994. She and Franklin moved to Oxford, Mississippi, in 2001 when he became the John and Renee Grisham writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi - a job that was supposed to last nine months in the town that has been a home to William Faulkner, Willie Morris and Larry Brown .

“Fifteen years later, we’re still here,” Fennelly said. “We have three born-and-bred Mississippi children, and last year we bought five plots in the Oxford Cemetery, just down the hill from Mr. Faulkner and a beer can’s throw from Barry Hannah, so I think it’s fair to say Mississippi is my home - my geographic and spiritual home.”

Fennelly, Franklin and their children are leaving for Germany in the next few days, where he has a four-month fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. Once they’re back in Mississippi, Fennelly said she will speak at schools, libraries and festivals about poems written in, about and for people in the state. Her term as poet laureate is four years.

“I’ll facilitate workshops and classes that encourage participants to find and feed their inner poet,” Fennelly said. “And I’ll pursue my mission of wedging poetry into the hands of our young people.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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