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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 of Service and Compensation

Each term of service for the Poet Laureate will be one year with an optional one-year renewal, with an annual honorarium of $3,000. The award should be considered honorific. A poet who has served as Poet Laureate may not be renominated. 

Eligibility to be nominated Poet Laureate

Legal residents of the City of Knoxville may nominate a poet for the Poet Laureate position. Nominations of poets from all walks of life and all poetry forms are welcome. (Click here for a nomination form: Poet Laureate Nomination at KnoxAlliance.com.)

Nominations for Knoxville's Poet Laureate will be accepted for poets who meet the following eligibility requirements:
• Poet must 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 consideration will be given to works representative of Knoxville/East Tennessee and its cultures.
• All poetry forms will be considered.
• A poet may not self-nominate.
• No award will be given posthumously.
• The nominee may not be an employee or office holder for the City of Knoxville, the Arts & Culture Alliance, or their immediate family or household.

Selection Process

Every two years, the Arts & Culture Alliance will organize a selection committee drawn from members of the literary community. The selection committee shall select for interview up to three finalists from among the nominations. The name of the finalist who best represents the community shall be recommended to the City Mayor for appointment. The Poet Laureate shall be considered a civic appointment and one of honor.

For more details on the selection process, click here: Selection Process

Obligations of the Poet Laureate

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 is also 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;
• Participate in no fewer than two (2) “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 the poet had already planned on doing with underserved audiences can count)
• 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.

Evaluation of Poet Laureate Nominees

The Poet Laureate is chosen on the basis of the following criteria:
• 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 outreach project, the purpose of which is to engender an appreciation of the literary arts to an underserved constituency within the City of Knoxville.

Renomination of Previously Nominated Poets

Nominations are not carried over from past years. Poets who have been previously nominated will be contacted and invited to expedite their application with new work samples and updated biographical information.


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.