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Release: March 9, 2000

Writers' Workshop's Marvin Bell is Iowa's first Poet Laureate

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Marvin Bell, Flannery O'Connor Professor of Letters at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop has been selected by Gov. Tom Vilsack as Iowa's first Poet Laureate. The governor will announce his choice Friday, March 10 during the celebration of Humanities Iowa Day 2000 in Davenport. The event will also feature the nation's Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky.

In commenting about the Bell appointment, Gov. Vilsack said, "In my inaugural address last year, I said that this is the time to look forward to the challenges and opportunities before us, and to take stock of who we are and where we are, and to take aim at where we want to go.

"One of the ways to reach that goal is through the creative arts, including poetry and other forms of creative writing, theater, dance and music. By appointing Marvin Bell as Iowa's first Poet Laureate, we can take a giant step toward discovering and celebrating what is great about Iowa. I am enthusiastic about the promise of a Poet Laureate who will take great poetry and ideas into our communities, neighborhoods and schools with enthusiasm, energy and creativity."

"The Governor has made an excellent choice in Marvin Bell," said the Humanities Iowa executive director Christopher Rossi. "There is a strong and clear lyric quality to his poetic voice and he combines the rare qualities of speaking universally and yet in ways that are distinctly Iowan."

Bell was recommended to the governor by a committee of six poetry experts from around the state chosen by Humanities Iowa and the Iowa Arts Council. The committee included as chair Nadine Brewer of Buena Vista University, vice-chair and poet M.L. Hobson of Des Moines, Paul Hedeen of Wartburg College, David Hamilton of the University of Iowa, and poets Lucille Wilson of Des Moines and John Herbert of Cedar Rapids.

According to Brewer, "Members took their task very seriously and worked hard; we're so delighted to have poetry so honored in our state. We had such a fine group of poets from which to select. Of course, that made the decision harder, but also more rewarding."

Reached in Florida while vacationing, Bell said, "I'm honored by the appointment. I'm aware that I'm standing in for a great number of superb poets who live in Iowa, and of others who used to live in Iowa. As people know all over the country, and indeed, all over the world, Iowa is a special place for poetry. I hope to help demonstrate that poetry is a natural human activity, and that it offers the light, amusement and instruction on many levels and in many guises."

Bell, who is a graduate of the Writers' Workshop, is the author of 17 books of poetry and essays, including "Ardor: The Book of the Dead Man, Vol. 2," "The Book of the Dead Man," "Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See," an Irish collection of poems entitled, "Wednesday" and, forthcoming in September "Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000."

His work appears in hundreds of anthologies of poetry and essays. His former students include Rita Dove, James Tate, Jorie Graham, John Irving, James Galvin, Norman Dubie,
David St. John, Marcus McPeek Villatoro, Joy Harjo, Patricia Hampel, Mary Swander, Lee Blessing and Marilyn Chin.

His numerous awards include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature (1994), senior Fulbright appointments to Yugoslavia and Australia, an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Alfred University (1986), the American Poetry Review Prize (1982). He was a National Book Award Finalist in 1977 for "Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See."

Bell has been invited to read his poetry at the White House, the Guggenheim Museum, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress. He holds a bachelor's degree from Alfred University and a master's degree from the University of Chicago in addition to his Master of Fine Arts degree from the UI.

Gov. Vilsack will honor Bell as Iowa's first Poet Laureate Friday evening at an event entitled "Poetry in Everyday America," which is part of the celebration of Humanities Iowa Day. This event will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Galvin Fine Arts Center on the campus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport. This event, sponsored by Humanities Iowa and Quad City Arts, is free and open to the public.

Humanities Iowa is a private, non-profit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities whose mission is to enhance the civic life, culture, and identity of Iowans. Drawing on history, literature, philosophy, law and other humanities fields, it fosters life-long learning, critical thinking, and community connections. Further information is available by phone at 319-335-4153 or log on to

For information and calendar updates on UI arts, visit <> on the World Wide Web.

(NOTE TO EDITORS: This release was prepared by Humanities Iowa, where the contact is Dana McGillin -- 319-335-4153; Fax 319-335-4154; e-mail <>. Contact Humanities Iowa to arrange interviews with Bell.)