Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn Appointed to Mercer Faculty

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Chelsea Rathburn

MACON – Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn has been appointed assistant professor of English and creative writing in Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts, effective Aug. 1.

Rathburn, who has served on the faculty at Young Harris College since 2013, was appointed the state’s 11th poet laureate by Gov. Brian Kemp in March.

She is the author of three full-length poetry collections, most recently Still Life with Mother and Knife, a New York Times “New & Noteworthy” book. This latest collection, published by Louisiana State University Press in February, is intended to “spark meaningful conversations about the difficult realities of motherhood,” Rathburn said.

Her first full-length collection, The Shifting Line, won the 2005 Richard Wilbur Award, and her second collection, A Raft of Grief, was selected by Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Dunn for the 2012 Autumn House Prize.

Rathburn’s poems have appeared in the nation’s most highly regarded journals, including Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, The Southern Review, New England Review and Ploughshares, among others.

In 2009, she received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Among numerous awards and honors, she has received the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Scholarship, the Father William Ralston Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Walton Fellowship in Poetry from the University of Arkansas. Additionally, she served as the McEver Visiting Chair in Writing at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2010.

Rathburn directed poetry programming for the Decatur Book Festival from 2006-2013, serving in a volunteer role tasked with bringing a diverse mix of established and emerging authors to the annual event that draws upwards of 80,000 patrons.

Though born in Jacksonville and raised in Miami, Rathburn has deep roots in Georgia, where her mother’s family has lived since the 1830s. She moved to Decatur in 2001 after graduating from the University of Arkansas, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts from Florida State University.

Rathburn is married to poet James Davis May, who was also recently appointed to the faculty of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts, where he will serve as visiting lecturer of integrative studies and writer-in-residence, effective Aug. 1. Rathburn and May have a daughter, Adelyn.

“We are thrilled that Chelsea Rathburn and James May will be joining the faculty of the College of Liberal Arts at Mercer University,” said Dr. Anita Olson Gustafson, dean of the College. “Ms. Rathburn’s recent selection as poet laureate for the state of Georgia will open doors for our students and help promote Mercer’s already-strong creative writing program across the state.”

Rathburn will be the third-consecutive Georgia Poet Laureate with ties to Mercer. Judson Mitcham, who served as poet laureate for the past seven years, was appointed to the position while on the University’s faculty teaching workshops in poetry and fiction. His predecessor, David Bottoms, who served as poet laureate from 2002-2012, earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from Mercer in 1971.

Mercer’s creative writing program, housed in the English Department within the College of Liberal Arts, offers a dynamic curriculum in which majors may specialize in the writing of fiction, poetry or drama and may hold internships in publishing, marketing and professional writing. The program hosts a different nationally prominent writer each year as its Ferrol A. Sams Jr. Distinguished Writer in Residence. It also brings in visiting poets, editors and novelists.

“In joining our writing faculty, Chelsea brings our students and community an invaluable artistic voice. Her teaching will prosper young poets. The addition of Chelsea and James to our English Department keeps Mercer close to the heart of the literary arts in the South,” said Dr. Gordon Johnston, professor of English and director of the creative writing program.