New title is created to honor long time faculty member

Mary Ellen Miller received the title of WKU’s first poet laureate after working at the university for over 50 years. Miller has been an active teacher and writer while also arranging events to support arts and literature. Katie Mclean/Herald

Rebekah Alvey

In an email sent to WKU faculty and staff Monday, President Gary Ransdell announced he had named Professor Mary Ellen Miller the first Poet Laureate at WKU.

Miller is retiring after over 50 years teaching at the university. In her time, Miller has served as faculty regent on the Board of Regents and remained active in creating literary events such as conferences.

Larry Snyder, dean of the Potter College of Arts and Letters, said the title of Poet Laureate was an appropriate way to honor Miller and her legacy.

When creating the title, Snyder said he looked at the few other universities that have a poet laureate such as Bradley and Columbia University. Tracey Smith is the current poet laureate to represent the U.S.

Snyder said the title is an “official honorary designation.” The primary task of a poet laureate is to be a symbol for the arts on campus and within the community and to advocate for poetry and literature.  

“It seemed like an appropriate thing for her to do,” Snyder said. “Nobody has been more active in that area than she has.”

Robert Hale, head of the English department, said Miller has had many roles on campus. She founded the Winter Workshop for writers in the region who needed assistance and created the Jim Wayne Miller Workshop which commemorated her late husband who was a well-known poet.

Because of her experience and connections, Miller has been instrumental in improving the network of communication for the English department. Hale said she has also served as a great mentor and advisor to him throughout his time as department head.  

In addition to staying involved with the community and being a writer, Hale said Miller had been a dedicated teacher. He said alumni and students would reach out and compliment Miller on her impact as a teacher and inspiration.

While the title is primarily an honor, Snyder said they might ask her to host events on campus and write poems for events. Miller already has plans to host an annual conference.

In addition to recognizing Miller, Snyder said the title recognizes the importance of the arts at WKU which has a history of support for the field. The English department is one of the oldest on campus and has a long history of literature and poetry. WKU is also the only state university in Ky to have all of the arts programs nationally accredited.

“We think the arts are an important part of the university education,” Snyder said.

Snyder said because of the accomplishments within the arts there is a feeling of obligation to reach out to the community and educate on the importance of the arts and their contribution to culture and society.

With the current political climate, Snyder said this message is especially important. He said there is not a lot of support coming from the government and the arts are almost “under attack.”

“The arts and humanities are an important part of learning and what it is to be human,” Hale said. “In these divided political times I think it is more and more important to look at what connects people and arts are a great way to do that.”

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].