LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 24, 2019) — Jeff Worley, retired editor of University of Kentucky's research magazine, Odyssey, has been appointed 2019-2020 Kentucky Poet Laureate by Gov. Matt Bevin.
Worley will be inducted, as part of the Kentucky Arts Council’s Kentucky Writers’ Day celebration, April 24 at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives in Frankfort, Kentucky. “I’m grateful for the recognition, and I’m very eager to spread the gospel of poetry around the state,” he said.
An accomplished writer, Worley has published five books, three chapbooks and has edited a poetry anthology titled, "What Comes Down to Us," published by University Press of Kentucky. His poems have also appeared in more than 500 literary magazines and journals across the United States and Canada. One of Worley's most widely recognized collections, "Happy Hour at Two Keys Tavern," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
In addition to the accolades for his books, Worley has received three Kentucky Arts Council Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowships and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship.
Worley was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. In 1975, he was the second graduate of the Wichita State University MFA Creative Writing Program. Following graduation, he pursued teaching and began his career at the University of Maryland's European Division. Worley worked for the university until 1983 — teaching composition, developmental writing, technical writing, creative writing and American literature.
In 1984, Worley became an assistant professor of English at the Penn State Altoona campus. He and his wife, Linda, moved to Lexington two years later. "And immediately, the first thing we noticed is just how open and friendly and welcoming, not only the writing community, but the academic community is at UK — various people were trying to get to know us, show us around and invite us to parties and so forth."
Worley joined the staff of Odyssey, UK's research magazine, and tried his hand at science writing. He became editor of the magazine in 1997.
"It was a brand-new subject matter I'd never considered before. And some of the articles that I wrote directly funneled into my poetry. One example was a piece, ‘The Rock Fences of the Bluegrass,’ where Karl Raitz, the geographer, was chronicling how many miles were left of the fences," Worley said. The description of how builders selected and stacked stones had a clear connection to the process of writing poetry. “I was alert to seeing how I might be able to use the experience of the writing I was doing with Odyssey."
Worley retired from UK in 2010, but he still works for several magazines across the country as a freelance writer. During his tenure as Kentucky Poet Laureate, he plans to promote Kentucky writers.
"Kentucky has a long history of narrative poetry. I just, probably unknowingly, tapped into that when I came here," he said. "I picture going to high schools, colleges, libraries and various civic groups to help spread the word. I’m looking forward to it tremendously.”
The governor appoints a poet laureate to a two-year term. That person acts as Kentucky’s literary ambassador, leading the Commonwealth in a variety of literary activities and events throughout their tenure.