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Nebraska State Poet & Poet Laureates

Twyla M. Hansen

Nebraska State Poet: Twyla M. Hansen

(Lincoln, Nebraska)

Adopted on Sept. 11, 1982.

Start of Term: December 1, 2013

Gov. Dave Heineman named Twyla M. Hansen as Nebraska State Poet for the term Dec. 1, 2013 to Nov. 30, 2018.

Her newest book, DIRT SONGS: A PLAINS DUET (with Linda M. Hasselstrom), won the 2012 Nebraska Book Award and was Finalist for the 2012 High Plains Book Award and 2012 WILLA Literary Award. She has five previous books of poetry, including POTATO SOUP, winner of the 2004 Nebraska Book Award. Her writing has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Prairie Schooner, Midwest Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Platte Valley Review, Organization & Environment, Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, Crazy Woman Creek: Women Rewrite the American West, and A Contemporary Reader for Creative Writing.

Twyla has earned a B.S. and a M.Ag. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She was raised in northeast Nebraska on land her grandparents farmed in the late 1800s as immigrants from Denmark. She lives and works in Lincoln, where her wooded acre is maintained as an urban wildlife habitat and was recognized in 1994 by the Mayor's Landscape Conservation Award.

Position History:Position of Poet Laureate established 1921 with the naming of John G. Neihardt by Legislature. Position title changed to State Poet when William Kloefkorn was appointed by Governor Charles Thone September 11, 1982, on the recommendation of an ad hoc committee headed by the executive director of the Nebraska Humanities Council. John G. Neihardt and William Kloefkorn served lifetime appointments. Twyla Hansen's appointment is for five years; her term is renewable.

Nebraska State Poet & Poet Laureates

Nebraska State Poet: William Kloefkorn

Previous Laureates:

William Kloefkorn

Term: (September 11, 1982-May 19, 2011)

William Kloefkorn of Lincoln was named Nebraska's first state poet by proclamation of Gov. Charles Thone on Sept. 11, 1982. Kloefkorn is an English professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln. Kloefkorn's works have appeared in numerous periodicals and newspapers. He has written 18 books, including Alvin Turner as Farmer, Uncertain the Final Run to Winter and Cottonwood County. Kloefkorn assisted in starting Nebraska's Poets-in-the-Schools program, and he has given readings and conducted workshops at colleges and universities across the United States.

John G. Neihardt

Nebraska State Poet Laureate: John G. Neihardt

Term: (1921-November 3, 1973)

Today John Neihardt is remembered primarily as the author of Black Elk Speaks, the biography of the visionary Oglala Lakota holy man. But to describe Neihardt only as the author of Black Elk Speaks is to miss the complexity of one of Nebraska's most interesting and influential characters.

Neihardt's mother, Alice, moved her family to Nebraska in 1891 when John was ten. As a thirteen-year-old John entered Wayne Normal College in Wayne, Nebraska, where he developed an interest in poetry. Neihardt's first volume of poetry, The Divine Enchantment, was published in 1900. This was the first of dozens of volumes of poetry and prose Neihardt published over the course of his lifetime. Some of his more famous works include the volume of poetry Bundle of Myrrh, the travel adventure The River and I, and the song cycle The Cycle of the West. In 1921 the Nebraska State Legislature recognized Neihardt's accomplishments by naming him "Poet Laureate of Nebraska and the Prairies." It was the first time a legislature named a state poet laureate.

In 1930 while researching the Plains Indian Wars, Neihardt traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and met Lakota Elder, Black Elk. Out of this remarkable relationship came Black Elk Speaks, the Holy Man's life story and prayer for the future of his people, published in 1932. In a measure of their friendship Neihardt and his two daughters were spiritually adopted into Black Elk's world. Black Elk made presents to Neihardt of sacred objects which he had used during his life as a "holy man."

Through Neihardt's poems and stories many people throughout the world have come into contact with the harsh beauty of the Great Plains, the larger than life stories of the Mountain Men and the Indian Wars, and the mystical world of the Sioux. As Black Elk recognized, in the core of his being John G. Neihardt was a "word sender."

Nebraska Law

Position of Poet Laureate established 1921 with the naming of John G. Neihardt by Legislature. Position title changed to State Poet when William Kloefkorn was appointed by Governor Charles Thone September 11, 1982, on the recommendation of an ad hoc committee headed by the executive director of the Nebraska Humanities Council. John G. Neihardt and William Kloefkorn served lifetime appointments. Twyla Hansen's appointment is for five years; her term is renewable.

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