The Poet Laureate
The Poet Laureate of Northwest Florida is an area resident honored by West Florida Literary Federation for his or her record as a published poet and whose work is regarded by the community as representative of this region. Former poet laureates include Adelia Rosasco-Soule (1986), a world traveler and author of several books including Panhandle Memories; Leonard A. Temme (1989), PhD, a research physiologist with Naval Aerospace Medical Research Lab; Mary Hood (1992), PhD, a professor of microbiology at University of West Florida; Laurie O'Brien (1995), the Director of the Creative Writing Program and Associate Professor of English at University of West Florida; Dr. Henry Langhorne II (2003), MD, a Pensacola cardiologist; Juliet Z. DeMarko, MA, former restauranteur and chef; and Jamey Jones, MFA, college instructor and author.
Award-winning Poet, Editor, and Author
Writing poems in school didn't keep Katherine Nelson from dropping out, but her lifelong love affair with writing and literature propelled her from GED to Ph.D., even if the odyssey took over twenty years. Often derailed, sometimes irreverent, but always faithful to her poetic passion, Katherine Nelson-Born is Northwest Florida's newest poet laureate.
The award-winning poet, editor, and author of When Mockingbirds Sing, brings a message of hope for young and old. Katherine first encountered poetry as a middle-schooler when a social worker tried to steer her away from juvenile delinquency with a book of poems. Soon Katherine was writing her own teenaged poetry, a better outlet than drugs or alcohol.
But poetry couldn’t keep Katherine at school. By age sixteen, she emancipated herself and dropped out of Grace King High School in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. Even though she had passed her classes, including Honors English, the school refused to let her advance -- she had skipped too many classes. Thumbing her nose at high school, she lied about her age and earned a GED certificate. A year later she worked as a receptionist by day, waited tables by night and made plans to attend the University of New Orleans, where she took her first poetry workshop and in 1987 earned her first degree.
“Hope for everyone” will be the key phrase in Nelson-Born’s program as the eighth Poet Laureate of Northwest Florida. Appointed by the West Florida Literary Federation, the poet laureate is charged with bringing poetry to life in the community as well as continuing to write poetry reflecting the region. Nelson-Born plans to collaborate with other poets beginning with a roundtable focused on finding creative ways to implement HOPE, the acronym for her theme—The Healing of Poetry is for Everyone.
“This year,” she explains, “we have seen our local community and the broader country torn asunder by the pandemic and by politics. No matter where on the spectrum people fall, 2021 should be a year we promote healing, and there’s no better way than to invite people to share their poems on similar themes.”
She also wants to implement a program like the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read which she facilitated for Pensacola 2008-2009. This time, she’ll recommend residents read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, a best-selling poetry collection and 2015 NAACP Image Award winner. While the Jamaican-born author is not local, promoting her poetry about citizenship and fighting racism could provide an opportunity for emerging, under-represented poets to shine along with recognized regional ones, says Nelson-Born.
As for poetry keeping kids in school, Nelson-Born explains “poetry, like other forms of creative writing, including music, is a creative outlet that can be beneficial to students and encourage them to express themselves in more positive ways than other forms of rebellion like dropping out or becoming the next Juvenile Justice statistic.” After all, poetry got Nelson-Born back to school, earning an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Ph.D. from Georgia State. She even attended the Grace King High School Class of ’78 Reunion, though she never graduated.
A frequent participant in local open mics and literary events from Pensacola to Fairhope to New Orleans, Nelson-Born knows the regional writing and poetry scene well. She has participated in Pensacola’s Foo Foo Fest, A Hundred Thousand Poets for Change, New Orleans Poetry Festival, the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, the Alabama Writers Conclave, and the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference.
She is well-versed with the expectations for the poet laureate as well as West Florida Literary Federation, the sponsoring organization. She served as president of WFLF from 2007 to 2010. In 2014 she served on the selection and induction committees for the seventh poet laureate, Jamey Jones, and in 2019 she edited the twentieth volume of The Emerald Coast Review, which included a special section featuring the poetry of past poets laureate.
Nelson-Born’s poems have won awards in the University of New Orleans Tennessee Williams competition, the Agnes Scott College Writing Festival, and the Alabama Writers Conclave. The introductory chapter for her debut novel Before the Thunder was recognized in the Tallahassee Writers Association’s literary competition and is included in its 2020 Seven Hills Review. Her poetry and creative writing have appeared in numerous other literary journals, including The Dark Sire, Emerald Coast Review, Alyss, Birmingham Poetry Review, GSU Review, Ellipsis, Maple Leaf Rag and Penumbra. Her first poetry collection, When Mockingbirds Sing, published by Finishing Line Press in 2016, is available on Amazon or from the publisher. She is currently seeking publication of her second poetry collection entitled Bone Geometry.
Nelson-Born has lived in Pensacola with her husband, Tim Born, a Pensacola native, for more than 20 years. She grew up in New Orleans, spending many weekends at Pensacola Beach where she met Tim. They have one daughter, Rowan, a senior on scholarship at University of Southern California. One-half of K & K Writing Services, Nelson-Born provides content editing with copy editor and partner, Katheryn Holmes, a fellow poet and artist.
Nelson-Born will be a featured speaker at the Fairhope Public Library Local Writers’ Night on Oct. 15. More information is available at https://fairhopelibrary.org/index.php/cal-event/local-writers-night-giddens-2020-10-15/
West Florida Literary Federation will announce formal induction ceremonies for Nelson-Born on its website https://wflf.org and on its Facebook page West Florida Literary Federation (WFLF).
Photo Credit: Belinda Todd of Belinda Todd Photography.