A poet laureate is a poetry writer who is honored, officially or unofficially, as the most distinguished or representative poet of a country or region.
A poet laureate is a poetry writer who is honored, officially or unofficially, as the most distinguished or representative poet of a country or region. The South Carolina General Assembly made the title of state poet laureate official in 1934, proclaiming that “the Governor may name and appoint some outstanding and distinguished man of letters as poet laureate for the State of South Carolina.” That same year Governor Ibra Blackwood appointed Archibald Rutledge as the first official poet laureate of South Carolina. Born near McClellanville in 1883, Rutledge held the title until his death in 1973. During his almost forty-year tenure, he attained almost legendary stature among his fellow South Carolinians.
Altogether, South Carolina has had six poets laureate since 1934: Archibald Rutledge (1934–1973), Helen von Kolnitz Hyer (1974–1983), Ennis Rees (1984–1985), Grace Beacham Freeman (1985–1986), Bennie Lee Sinclair (1986–2000), and Marjory Wentworth (2003–2020). Poets laureate do not have a strictly delineated job description, beyond the expectation that they will present poetry at a few state occasions. Nor is the position meant to be a lucrative one. It carried a small annual stipend until 2003, when Governor Mark Sanford vetoed funding for the position. Despite the absence of actual duties, however, the poet laureate has the unique responsibility of bringing poetry out of the classroom and into the places where South Carolinians are living their lives.