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Knoxville Poet Laureate

Knoxville has a long and rich literary heritage. George Washington Harris’s Knoxville-based tales of Sut Lovingood were an influence on Mark Twain, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of “The Secret Garden,” wrote her first novel in Knoxville based on her experiences as adolescent here. Pulitzer Prize winners James Agee and Cormac McCarthy both grew up in Knoxville, and the city figures prominently in their works. Poet Nikki Giovanni is a Knoxville native who attended Austin High School here and has often written about her memories of the city.

The City of Knoxville Poet Laureate Program aims to extend and build on that heritage, by recognizing and supporting citizen poets of exceptional talent and accomplishment. Each Poet Laureate serves a term of two years, during which she or he serves as a public voice of Knoxville, creating city-specific works and participating in literary outreach and education. 


Term and Honorarium:  Each term of service for the Poet Laureate will be one year, with an optional one-year renewal, beginning in the summer of 2018 and be paid an annual honorarium of $3,000.  The award should be considered honorific.  

Nominators:  Legal residents or those who work within the corporate limits of the City of Knoxville may nominate a poet for the Poet Laureate position. Poets may not self-nominate.  Those submitting nominations must be at least 18 years old.  

Intellectual Property:  The City shall retain license to use, reproduce, and compile the work created for the City by the Poet Laureate in his/her official capacity, but the Poet shall retain all other rights to the work. 


Nominations of poets from all walks of life and all poetry forms are welcome.  Nominated poets must have produced work of the highest caliber and critical acclaim and must have contributed substantial service to the development of the literary arts.  A poet who has served as Poet Laureate may not be re-nominated. 

In order to be considered for the position, nominated poets must meet the following eligibility requirements:

• Poet must either work within the corporate limits of the City of Knoxville or be a legal resident of the City of Knoxville for at least one year.
• Poet must be at least 18 years old.
• Poet must have produced work of the highest caliber and critical acclaim and have contributed substantial service to the development of the literary arts as demonstrated by the submitted application.
• Poet must have had at least one book of poetry published, which may be self-published.
• Poet's submitted work samples may be on any topic, although special consideration will be given to works representative of Knoxville/East Tennessee and its cultures.  All forms of poetry will be considered.
• No award shall be given posthumously.
• Poet may not have previously served as Knoxville Poet Laureate.
• The nominee may not be an employee or officeholder for the City of Knoxville, the Arts & Culture Alliance, or from the immediate family or household of such employees or officeholders.


The Poet Laureate is encouraged to nurture appreciation of poetry and literature by conducting public readings, workshops, lectures and presentations in neighborhoods, schools, colleges, universities and other public settings in geographically diverse areas of the city. 

The Poet Laureate shall be expected to:   

• Have the ability to fulfill her/his term in residence;
• Attend/Participate/Read/Perform at four (4) ceremonial/civic engagement events per year (possible such events may include Christmas in the City; Festival on the Fourth, a meeting of City Council, etc.);
• Participate in no fewer than two “poetry advocacy” events per year, during which the Poet Laureate shares the art and love of poetry with a non-traditional and/or underserved audience.  Examples of poetry advocacy events could include, but are not limited to, a reading at a Veterans organization; a workshop at a domestic violence shelter; a group exercise and performance at a correctional institution.  Work already planned or scheduled by the poet can be considered.
• Undertake one community outreach project to make poetry available and accessible to people in their everyday lives;
• Create a body of work including three poems each year of the two year term;
• Submit semi-annual reports on their work to the Arts & Culture Alliance.


Once the nomination period has closed, a selection panel drawn from members of the literary community shall select up to three finalists for interview from among the nominations.  The finalist best representing the community shall be recommended to the City Mayor for appointment.  All nominated poets will be notified of the selection outcome.  The Poet Laureate shall be considered a civic appointment and one of honor.

The selection panel's recommendation to the Mayor shall be based upon the following criteria:

• Creative excellence, as evidenced by the submitted poetry samples
• Personal record of community service
• Exemplary professionalism, as evidenced by an established history of substantial and significant publication in journals and books, including at least one book of poems published by a commercial or small press and special honors, awards, fellowships, or other recognition
• Advancement of poetry in East Tennessee communities, as evidenced by an established history of activity in Knox County’s literary community through readings, publications, public presentations, and/or teaching
• The community value of one or more proposed outreach projects, the purpose of which are to engender an appreciation of the literary arts to an underserved constituency within the City of Knoxville

Go to Nomination Forms