Texas Laureate

Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón

Jan Seale (ʼ69 M.A.) has always been writing.

“I started writing poetry as soon as I could read and write,” she says.

She’s the author of more than 20 books of poems, short stories, essays and children’s stories. And she’s now the 2012 Poet Laureate of Texas.

The title is given to writers who have produced a substantial body of work, including at least one published book. Nominations are handled by the Texas Commission on the Arts. A committee appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the Texas House of Representatives then selects a poet.

“It was wonderful to be selected and I felt that I was in some way getting a special privilege to have this come to me at this stage of my life,” Seale says.

Good company

She joins the ranks of other UNT poets who served in the post, such as Arthur M. Sampley, former English professor and vice president, 1951 to 1953; Cleatus Rattan (’65, ’69 M.Ed.), 2004 to 2005; and Alan Lee Birkelbach (’78), 2005 to 2006.

As part of her duties, Seale promotes poetry and the other literary arts in Texas — sometimes attending as many as three events a week. She visits colleges, schools, libraries, museums, women’s groups and other organizations and reads from her works, drawing from a variety of topics she’s written about over the years.

She says she grew up with poetry. Her father, a minister, quoted and wrote poetry, as did her grandfather. She still has a scrapbook of her grandfather’s poems.

Seale earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Louisville and further honed her skills at North Texas with a master’s in English and a concentration in creative writing. She remembers being the first person to write a creative thesis for her master’s degree — a book of free verse poems with rationale. Seale says she enjoyed her classes with Carroll Rich, who taught the history of the language, and Ernest Clifton, who was an expert in Old English.

“I felt that I had very caring and careful professors and I learned a great deal of additional skills and information at that time,” she says.

New works

She taught English for a year at UNT before her family moved to McAllen, where she still resides. Throughout Seale’s career, her work has been published in anthologies, newspapers and magazines and read on National Public Radio. She’s earned a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other honors.

Her newest book, Nape, is a collection of poems about spirituality. She has more books coming — including her second short story collection, Appearances; a second edition of a book of poems, The Wonder Is; a career retrospective of her poems; and a collection of personal essays.

She also is working on a book on family creativity inspired by her husband Carl Seale (ʼ71 D.M.A.), a symphony conductor, and her three sons, who all have careers in the arts.

“I just enjoy both writing poetry and sharing the art of poetry with others,” she says, “If I can do it for the rest of my life, then I’ll be very happy.”