The Theatre of Language:
Actor John Lithgow & poet-essayist-novelist Carol Muske-Dukes reading at the Annenberg Auditorium USC, 2008
Continuing his support of California’s rich literary tradition, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today appointed Carol Muske-Dukes California’s poet laureate. The poet laureate is charged with educating Californians about the many literary icons who have come from California and added to its cultural heritage. She is also charged with encouraging a new generation of poets to take up the mantle of creative expression and bringing poetry to students who otherwise would have little opportunity to be exposed to it.
Carol Muske-Dukes | Â Â Â© Luis Sinko / L.A. Times
“Carol Muske-Dukes is an accomplished and decorated poet and author. Her commitment to the literary arts and passionate belief that poetry can transform lives will serve as an inspiration for all Californians.” Governor Schwarzenegger said.
Since 1993 Muske-Dukes has been a professor of English at the University of Southern California (USC), where she founded the graduate program in literature and creative writing in 1999 and served as director of the program until 2002. She previously served as associate professor from 1991 to 1993, assistant professor from 1989 to 1991 and lecturer from 1984 to 1988 at USC. From 1972 to 1974, Muske-Dukes founded and taught in a creative writing program called “Free Space” at the Women’s House of Detention on Riker’s Island in New York which later became “Art Without Walls-Free Space.” She is a regular critic for the New York Times Book Review and the LA Times Book Review. Muske-Dukes previously served as a poetry columnist for the LA Times Book Review from 2001 to 2004.
Muske-Dukes is the author of seven books of poetry, including her most recent work, Sparrow, which was a National Book Award finalist and An Octave Above Thunder, which was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She has also written four novels, including Los Angeles Times best-seller Channeling Mark Twain and two collections of essays. Her collection Married to the Icepick Killer: A Poet in Hollywood was listed in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Books of 2002.
In addition to her teaching positions and numerous books, Muske-Dukes has also been anthologized widely, including credits in Best American Poems, 100 Great Poems by Women, MotherSongs and others. Her list of awards and accomplishments includes a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, the Ingram-Merrill Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Award from the Library of Congress, the Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, five Pushcart prizes and the WriteGirl Bold Ink Award.
Golden State poets Jane Hirshfield and Carol Muske-Dukes relax after reading together at USC. Â | Courtesy Photo
“I am truly honored to be named California’s poet laureate and I look forward to serving the people of California and poetry which reaches the hearts and imagination of young and old in both urban and remote areas of this diverse and dynamic state.” said Muske-Dukes.
Muske-Dukes, 62, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and earned a Master of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $10,000 to be paid over the course of the two-year term. Muske-Dukes is a Democrat.
“Carol Muske-Dukes is a distinguished writer who has greatly influenced the world of literary arts in California and throughout the world. Governor Schwarzenegger has chosen Carol from a list of accomplished and well-known writers and The California Arts Council looks forward to working with her in the future,” said California Arts Council Director Muriel Johnson.
The California poet laureate works in conjunction with the California Arts Council to bring the poetic arts to Californians and to California students who might otherwise have little opportunity to be exposed to poetry. Before 2001, the position was unofficial and honorary, conferred by the legislature and held for a lifetime. The poet laureate position was officially created by AB 113 by Assemblymember Fran Pavley and signed into law in 2001. Under this legislation, the California Arts Council solicits nominations for the position and then recommends four candidates to the governor. From these nominees the Governor chooses the poet laureate and he or she is confirmed by the Senate.
California has given the world some of its greatest writers and most influential works; John Steinbeck brought to life many regions of California — from the Central Valley in The Grapes of Wrath to Monterey in Cannery Row-in his immense body of work; Allen Ginsberg became synonymous with San Francisco while leading the charge of the Beat Generation with his most famous poem, “Howl”; and Raymond Carver revitalized the short story genre in the late 20th century.
The role of the California poet laureate is to spread the art of poetry from classrooms to boardrooms across the state, to inspire an emerging generation of literary artists and to educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced our great state through creative literary expression.
Al Young congratulates California’s new poet laureate