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Carol Muske-Dukes Appointed California Poet Laureate

USC College’s professor of English will educate Californians about the state’s literary icons, and inspire new poets.

By Pamela J. Johnson
November 1, 2008

Carol Muske-Dukes Appointed California Poet Laureate

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed Carol Muske-Dukes, professor of English in USC College, as California’s next poet laureate.

Muske-Dukes, author of seven books of poetry, four novels and two collections of essays, founded the College’s elite Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing program, launched in 2001. Dukes served as the program’s first director.

Her most recent book of poetry, Sparrow (Random House, 2003), chronicling the love and loss of Muske-Dukes’ late husband, actor David Dukes, was a National Book Award finalist.

She also founded and taught in a creative writing program called “Free Space” at a women’s prison on Riker’s Island in New York, which later became “Art Without Walls-Free Space,” a program providing support services for children and families through art.

“Carol Muske-Dukes is an accomplished and decorated poet and author,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “Her commitment to the literary arts and passionate belief that poetry can transform lives will serve as an inspiration for all Californians.”

The poet laureate works with the California Arts Council to promote poetry, especially among children. The council takes nominations and recommends four candidates to the governor. The poet laureate post is a two-year term confirmed by the Senate.

The California poet laureate’s role is to spread the art of poetry from classrooms to boardrooms across the state. They also serve to inspire and educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced the state.

“I am truly honored to be named California’s poet laureate,” Muske-Dukes said. “I look forward to serving the people of California and poetry which reaches the hearts and imagination of young and old in both urban and remote areas of this diverse and dynamic state.”

USC College Dean Howard Gillman praised Muske-Dukes, who joined the College in 1984.

“I am so proud of my friend and colleague Carol Muske-Dukes for the honor bestowed upon her as the new poet laureate of California,” Gillman said. “In addition to being a brilliant writer and inspiring teacher, she established our distinguished Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing program.”

In addition to her teaching positions and numerous books, Muske-Dukes’ work has been anthologized widely, including credits in Best American Poems, 100 Great Poems by Women, MotherSongs and others.

Her list of awards and accomplishments includes a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, the Ingram-Merrill Fellowship, the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, five Pushcart Prizes and the WriteGirl Bold Ink Award.

A regular critic for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times book reviews, her latest novel is best-seller Channeling Mark Twain (Random House, 2007).

Born in St. Paul, Minn., Muske-Dukes earned a master’s degree in English and creative writing from San Francisco State University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

Her daughter, Annie Muske-Dukes, graduated from USC in May 2005 and is pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Muske-Dukes replaces California Poet Laureate Al Young, a poet, novelist, essayist and educator known for the jazz rhythms in his work.