Montana Poet Laureate 2011 – 2013
I was born into a family that didn’t read books. When I was very young I found a collection of Dorothy Parker’s short stories, and I read it again and again, having discovered a door to another world, one
without fighting and alcoholism and distress.
I became an avid reader and read everything I could get my hands on.
Then, in fifth grade, a teacher remarked that someday I could be a published author.
This idea changed my life entirely. Now I saw myself as a writer, a part of the literary dialogue
of our culture. I re-wrote my own identity, beyond anything my family had ever dreamed of.
I published poems at age seventeen, my first book at age thirty, and since them I’ve published four
books and been widely anthologized.
More importantly, however, is I realized that a few words from an adult can shape a child’s idea
of who they are and who they can become. After working in the most dangerous neighborhoods
in New York City, teaching children how to write poetry and how to love writing poetry,
I re-located to Montana twenty-five years ago and founded a poets in the schools program,
based on the successful model I learned in New York working for Teachers &Writers Collaborative.
My program, The Missoula Writing Collaborative, is now working in a dozen schools, including
title one schools and reservation schools as well as in a small village in Alaska. We have affected
the lives of children that numbers into the ten thousands.
During this time I wrote the following books of poetry: The Ghost Openings, which won the
William Stafford Prize for poetry, and a textbook that is widely used nationally, Poetry Everywhere.
Most recently I published As Is.
Now I’m developing curriculum to use in the schools of Montana utilizing Indian Education For All
funding, insuring that those dollars go toward educating students about American Indian literature,
exposing them to the many wonderful Native writers, and then bringing those writers into the
classrooms to read their work, discuss their lives and culture, and break stereotypes. This program
has been approved with OPI Indian Education For All, and more schools are requesting it.
I believe poetry is essential to a happy life, and my mission in life, besides writing the best
poetry I’m capable of, is to give children the chance at creating their future through imagination
and literacy. The work I do is the best work in the world, sharing the vast possibilities of language
with children and awakening them to their own inner lives, esteem, and the self awareness and
introspection so essential to writing.
My mission and my life’s work are what the position of Poet Laureate fulfills: spreading the
good word, involving everyone in the pleasure of writing, and a focus on children discovering
they have the ability to find their own literary voice. I would have the opportunity to reach out
to diverse populations and involve them in the joy and magic of writing poetry.
In March of 2015, I delivered a TEDxTALK on language acquisition in children. It is on
Youtube and is the best bio I could possibly deliver.