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North Carolina's New Poet Laureate

Photo by Scott Bigelow, UNC-Pembroke.

The state of North Carolina installed its newest poet laureate after some controversy swirled around the position last July. 

Shelby Stephenson, never really thought about becoming the state’s poet laureate. Yet Monday night the 76-year-old accepted the position in downtown Raleigh.

He says the role he’ll play is a simple one: to support the creative arts. 

Stephenson is a former editor of Pembroke Magazine and recipient of the 2001 North Carolina Award in Literature. He plans to promote poetry in the classroom and even in assisted living communities.  

Stephenson takes the position after the resignation of Valarie Macon this past July. Macon’s qualifications came under fire due to what some criticized as a lack of experience compared to previous poets laureate. Many in the arts community were also unhappy that Governor Pat McCrory selected Macon with no input from the North Carolina Arts Council, which participated in the process in previous years.

Despite the controversy Stephenson says he looks forward to getting to know Macon.

“I look forward to meeting her and writing with her. I’d love to write a poem with her. We’re all in this together. And I think for me poetry is the answer,” Shelby says. 

Along with his many literary accomplishments, Stephenson is a musician and an avid Hank Williams, Sr. fan. Williams, he says, has influenced some of the work he hopes to share throughout his time as poet laureate.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.