The Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) recently named Shari Wagner the new Indiana state poet laureate.
During her two-year term as poet laureate beginning in January, the 1980 Goshen College graduate will seek to promote a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.
“As Indiana’s new poet laureate,” said Wagner, “I want to do on a state level what I’ve been doing in Indianapolis for a number of years—promoting the writing and reading of poetry in a variety of settings.” Wagner will present in libraries, schools, senior centers and many other settings.
“I’m extremely excited that my term coincides with Indiana’s Bicentennial and the Centennial of its state parks,” said Wagner, “and in honor of those anniversaries, I plan to organize some special readings and workshops at historical sites and state parks.”
Besides being the author of two poetry books, “The Harmonist of Nightfall: Poems of Indiana” and “Evening Chore,” Wagner teaches poetry and memoir writing at the Indiana Writers Center and literature for Butler University’s Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Seminar.
She also holds a masters’ degree in creative writing from Indiana University Bloomington.
In a recent press release, Sarah Fronzczek, IAC community development manager and poet laureate program director, spoke highly of Wagner’s ability to “communicate her knowledge and love of nature and humanity through written and spoken word. She will carry forward the fine work of all of Indiana’s previous gifted and dedicated laureates.”
Wagner is following in the footsteps of George Kalamaras, as the sixth state poet laureate since the program’s beginning in 2005.
Wagner was born in Goshen, but spent her childhood growing up in Wells County, Indiana. During her time as a student, she went to Honduras through Goshen’s Study Service Term, published two Pinchpenny Press volumes, “When the Walls Crumble” (1979) and “Feathers in My Hat,” an anthology of poetry written by residents of Fountainview Place in Elkhart, Indiana. She also reported for the Record and served as editor in the fall of 1979.
“My years at GC had a huge impact on me as a poet,” said Wagner. “I’m grateful for SST in Honduras, a cross-cultural experience that helped shape my vision as a poet. And I think just the feedback from my college community was beneficial to my development—words of support from students and teachers and staff.”
Wagner remembers advice from Gwendolyn Brooks, a visiting author at Goshen College while Wagner was a student. "[She said] 'Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Live, live, live,'” said Wagner. “That advice has served as a good mantra for me—one that I’ve shared with many of my students.”
Wagner is currently married and has two children. She is in the process of working on a collection of poems in the voice of a fictional Mennonite woman who lives on a farm near Shipshewana.
To learn more about Wagner and her work, visit her website at shariwagnerpoet.com.