January 9, 1911: State Poet Laureate Louise McNeill Born

Jan 9, 2018

With its rich tapestry of stories and characters, McNeill's Gauley Mountain is still hailed as a classic work of American poetry.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

West Virginia Poet Laureate Louise McNeill was born on her family’s Pocahontas County farm on January 9, 1911. Her first book, Gauley Mountain, was published in 1939. In it, she peppered her poems with the speech and dialect she’d grown up with.

With its rich tapestry of stories and characters, Gauley Mountain is still hailed as a classic work of American poetry.

Over the next few decades, she taught college English but didn’t publish another major collection until 1972.

In 1979, Governor Jay Rockefeller named her state poet laureate. The honorary title, which she held until her death, attracted a new generation of readers to McNeill’s work.

In 1988, at age 77, she published her memoirs. The Milkweed Ladies traces her formative years on the farm to the night she read about the bombing of Hiroshima. She observed that “something deep and earth-given . . . died that night.”

One last book of poetry, Hill Daughter, was published before her death in 1993 at age 82. Today, McNeill’s work remains widely regarded for the way she blended poetry, history, and folklore in a distinctively West Virginia way.