Poet Irene McKinney was born in Belington in Barbour County on April 20, 1939. She earned degrees from West Virginia Wesleyan College and West Virginia University and, in 1976, published her first book of poems, The Girl with the Stone in Her Lap. She served as director of creative writing at West Virginia Wesleyan and, in 1984, published another poetry collection entitled The Wasps and the Blue Hexagon. The next year, she won a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and other prestigious honors.
In 1993, Governor Gaston Caperton appointed McKinney as the state’s eighth poet laureate, succeeding her mentor, Louise McNeill.
She also served as poet-in-residence for the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and was the cofounder of Trellis, a poetry journal. Over the years, she published several other poetry collections, including Quick Fire and Slow Fire, Six O’clock Mine Report, Vivid Companion, and Unthinkable: Selected Poems 1976-2004.
Irene McKinney died in Buckhannon in 2012 at age 72. She was succeeded as poet laureate by Marc Harshman of Wheeling. A fund in McKinney’s memory has been established at West Virginia Wesleyan College.