In 1923, Governor C. C. Moore, nudged and then elbowed by the State Federation of Women’s Clubs and the State Parent Teacher Association, appointed Irene Grissom Idaho’s first poet laureate—a life term. A native of Greeley, Colorado, she wrote three novels and three collections of verse and, until her death in 1946, lived on the outskirts of Idaho Falls.
Governor C. A. Robins appointed her successor: Sudie Stuart Hager, an Oklahoman educated in Oregon, who taught school in Kimberley, Idaho. Hager proved to be the last of the laureates.
Following her death in 1982, Governor John Evans assembled a five-member panel of Idahoans, joined by western poets Brewster Ghiselin, Drummond Hadley, and William Stafford, to choose a new laureate. The panel recommended, instead, the selection of a writer-in-residence to serve a two-year term; that the position be open to writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction; that the writer be required to give readings during his or her term; and that the writer be paid $5,000 annually. In 1983 their recommendations were adopted by an executive order, establishing a writer-in-residence panel.
With guidance from the panel, the program was initiated, developed, and administered by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities. Financial support was furnished by the Idaho Commission on the Arts, the Association for the Humanities (now Idaho Humanities Council), and private gifts. In June 1986, program responsibility shifted to the Idaho Commission on the Arts. The award was for two years and required a total of twelve readings. In 1998, because of budget cutbacks, the Commission reduced the stipend and extended the term to three years.
writers in residence…
Selection of the writer is made from Idaho applicants whose anonymous writing samples are judged by a panel of three out-of-state writers. This year’s panel consisted of fiction writer Gina Ochsner, Oregon; poet Paisley Rekdal, Utah; and nonfiction writer Jack Nesbitt, Washington. Submissions are judged 60% for artistic excellence, 20% for contributions to the field, and 20% for oral presentation (CD). The panel makes its recommendations to the Commission; the Governor approves the choice with a proclamation.
Former writers-in-residence include: Ron McFarland, Moscow (1984); Robert Wrigley, Lewiston (1986); Eberle Umbach, Indian Valley (1988); Neidy Messer, Boise (1990); Daryl Jones, Boise (1992); Clay Morgan, McCall (1994); Lance Olsen, Moscow (1996); Bill Johnson, Lewiston (1999); Jim Irons, Twin Falls (2001); Kim Barnes, Lewiston (2004); Anthony Doerr, Boise (2007); Brady Udall, Boise (2010).
The 2013 recipient, Diane Raptosh, grew up in Nampa, Idaho, one of three children. A graduate of The College of Idaho, she earned her MFA at the University of Michigan.
Raptosh is now professor of English at The College of Idaho, where she holds the Eyck-Berringer Endowed Chair. She has published four collections of poems, among them Just West of Now (1992), Labor Songs (1999), and Parents from a Different Alphabet (2008). Her work has appeared in more than 20 anthologies and 50 journals.
ethics of poetical grace…
Her most recent collection, American Amnesiac (2013), is described by literary scholar and author of Poetic Sensibility Jerome McGann as “the nightmare reflex of the American Dream. [It] lifts that nightmare into the light of what William Blake called the ‘realms of day,’ and what her poem, in turn, describes as ‘thinking-in-feeling.’ It is a poem for people, not empires…it is merciful; it has the ethics of poetical grace in such abundance.”
These dramatic monologues employ an anonymous speaker who lacks memory—all the thousand things that chain our wrists to the past—to follow the manic journey of a man confronting the complexities of being American in an age of corruption, corporations, and irreconcilable conflicts. Individual poems, moreover, are untitled in order that a reader so inclined may read the sequence as one.
Of the series, English professor Edvige Giunta of New Jersey has written, “Straddling confession and prophesy, history and myth, intimacy and anonymity, American Amnesiac offers a riveting meditation on a distinctly American condition. We are lost and at home in its world, a world in which past and present collide and identities fold and collapse.” She adds, “Following the hypnotic voice of the amnesiac speaker, the stranded reader stumbles along in a landscape marked by its own odd, jarring, incoherent signposts—shreds of a past as recognizable as it is impenetrable (the relentless refrain is, after all, My name is John Doe) and scraps of a world reduced to a collection of headlines, names, titles, symbols, letters—familiar and cryptic at once.”
Among the courses Raptosh teaches at The College of Idaho is “Prison Experience,” a class in which students read prison-associated texts in sociology and literature. She says, “One of my goals is to raise awareness of the power of the written word for people on the margins: those, for example, who are in prisons, juvenile detention centers, and women's safe houses.”
In 2013, she also was selected by Boise’s Department of Arts & History to serve one year as its first poet laureate—a term ending in December.
Raptosh is the mother of two daughters, one in junior high, the other in graduate school.
Note: Requests for a free community reading by the Writer in Residence are made through the Idaho Commission on the Arts.