The Blue Moon
KAC Home Publications

  VOL. 12  NO. 2

March/April 2005

In This Issue
bullet Sena Jeter Naslund Appointed Poet Laureate
bullet On the National Front
bullet Arts Council News
bullet Craft Marketing News
bullet Focus on Folklife
bullet Kentucky Arts News
bullet Resources and Reports
bullet Hot Dates

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Sena Jeter Naslund is New Poet Laureate
Sena Jeter Naslund is New Poet Laureate

2005-2006 Kentucky Poet Laureate: Sena Jeter Naslund

By Mary Popham

The Poet Laureate to serve the term 2005-2006, following in Joe Survant's footsteps, is Dr. Sena Jeter Naslund. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Naslund has lived, taught and written in Kentucky since 1973. She majored in English at Birmingham Southern College, received a master's degree with a creative thesis and completed the Ph.D. program with a creative dissertation at the University of Iowa. Before accepting a position at the University of Louisville, where Naslund is a Distinguished Teaching Professor, she also taught creative writing at the University of Montana, Indiana University-Bloomington and Vermont College. With her husband, physicist John C. Morrison, she served as 2003 Vacca Professor at the University of Montevallo, Alabama, and is currently the co-founder and program director of the low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing program at Spalding University in Louisville. She is also the editor of the literary magazine, The Louisville Review, and the Fleur-de-Lis Press.

The guidelines for selection of the Kentucky Poet Laureate state that, "the word poet in the position's title is interpreted in its broadest sense to include persons whose accomplishments are in any of the recognized literary forms." Sena Jeter Naslund has received critical acclaim and enjoys best-seller status for her latest novels, Four Spirits (2003), and Ahab's Wife (also called The StarGazer), which was selected by Time and Book Sense as one of the five best novels of 1999. It appeared on the Notable Book lists of The New York Times Book Review and Publisher's Weekly and was a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Currently there is an option on screen rights for this " .... essential book of daring originality and universal significance" (Courier-Journal Review.) Other titles by Naslund include Ice Skating at the North Pole, The Animal Way to Love, Sherlock in Love, and The Disobedience of Water. She has also published fiction in The Paris Review, The Georgia Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The American Voice, and other journals.

Sena Jeter Naslund has given more than 400 presentations about writing nationally and internationally, and she is under contract with HarperCollins for a new novel about Marie Antoinette. She has received the Harper Lee Award, The Hall-Waters Southern Prize, and the Author Award of the Southeastern Library Association." About the Harper Lee Award she states, "One reason that I treasure this so much is because it's for overall achievement in fiction. It's for decades of work, and it's especially rewarding because it's from my home state, Alabama."

As a young cellist, Naslund was once offered a college scholarship at the University of Alabama. Although she turned it down in order to pursue creative writing, her response to music informs much of her work. An initial breakthrough in her writing occurred when she attended a rehearsal for a Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola. She felt lifted "in some nebulous way to the heights that art can achieve, even though it was a different art form." After the concert, she wrote a story, "The Death of Julius Geissler," which appeared in The Iowa Review.

The musicality of Naslund's prose has inspired composer Frank Richmond's music and lyrics, a work-in-progress, for Ahab's Wife. And her novels inspire theater productions as well. Very recently, she appeared at The Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery for the Southern Writers' Project Festival of New Plays. She wrote, with Elaine Wood Hughes, from her latest novel Four Spirits, what is praised as "... an inspirational drama that tells the story of unsung heroes who risked their lives to help African Americans toward literacy in the turbulent world of the civil rights movement." And last October, she was featured with other notable authors, including Susan Vreeland, in a Los Angeles literary celebration, "Women & Words." The proceeds from this event will benefit 30,000 foster children in Los Angeles County.

Although proficient in male-centered stories, and an admirer of male authors (Dickens and Faulkner are important to her as well as Ernest J. Gaines), the women's movement strongly influences Naslund's writing. A devotee of Toni Morrison, Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O'Conner and Virginia Woolf, Sena Jeter Naslund writes comfortably from a female perspective. She says, "Virginia Woolf's humanistic philosophy means very much to me. Woolf was able to find a fiction form that translates her vision, her ideology. Most people aren't engaged in large, heroic actions. It's the inner life that really counts. Ordinary life is of such immense value in itself, particularly when emotion flows from one person to another at any moment." In Ahab's Wife, Naslund created a memorable female heroine with an independent spirit and strength - Una. The character has a certain sweetness about her but also the fierceness of a survivor.

Joe Survant, Bowling Green served as Kentucky Poet Laureate for 2003-2004. Other notable Kentucky Poets Laureate have been James Baker Hall, Richard Taylor, Joy Bale Boone, James Still, Jim Wayne Miller and Jesse Stuart. The Kentucky Poet Laureate position was officially created by the General Assembly in 1991 to honor an outstanding Kentucky writer as a champion for the literary arts. During her tenure, Naslund will promote the literary arts in Kentucky through readings and/or public presentations at meetings, seminars, conferences, and other programs across the state, including Kentucky Writers' Day. The Kentucky Arts Council coordinates the selection process.

The Poet Laureate Installation Ceremony will be conducted by Governor Ernie Fletcher on April 14, 2005 in Louisville.