Born in Cleveland, Ohio, into a military family, Marilyn Nelson is a three-time finalist for the National Book Award and an accomplished poet, children's verse author, and translator. She has won two Pushcart Prizes, two Yaddo residencies, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the 2012 Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. Nelson is a professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut at Storrs and was Connecticut's poet laureate from 2001 to 2006. Three of Nelson's collections have been finalists for the National Book Award: The Homeplace (1990), The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (1997), and Carver: A Life in Poems (2001).
In 2004 Nelson established Soul Mountain Retreat, a writer's colony that aims to "encourage and support emerging and established poets—especially those belonging to traditionally underrepresented racial or cultural groups."
Nelson is the daughter of one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen. Her mother was a teacher. She spent much of her youth living on different military bases and began writing poetry in elementary school.
More about Marilyn Nelson at Blueflower Arts
Listen to Marilyn read her poem "A Wreath for Emmett Till" and talk about it on NPR.
Check out Soul Mountain Retreat.
How I Discovered Poetry
It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she'd chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.