In 2018 Adrian Matejka, Ruth Lilly Professor and Poet-In-Residence in the College of Arts and Sciences, began his two-year term as Indiana’s Poet Laureate. Matejka is the sixth Poet Laureate of Indiana and also a true Hoosier Poet—he graduated from Pike High School in Indianapolis and then attended Indiana University as an undergraduate, before going on to get his M.F.A. from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Adrian Matejka’s Two Years as Indiana Poet Laureate
He returned to IUB in 2013 as a member of our Creative Writing faculty, where he shares The Lilly Professorship in Poetry with his colleague Ross Gay. Matejka’s accomplishments are many—he is, to be sure, a major American poet in the contemporary literary landscape, and one who serves as a steward and ambassador of poetry in the world. He is the author of The Devil's Garden (Alice James Books, 2003), which won the New York / New England Award, and Mixology (Penguin, 2009), a winner of the 2008 National Poetry Series. Mixology was also a finalist for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature. His third collection, The Big Smoke (Penguin, 20013), was awarded the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and 2014 Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book, Map to the Stars, is set in Indianapolis in the 1980s and was published by Penguin in March 2017.
Indiana’s Poet Laureate Program was created to increase public awareness of poetry through creative projects and initiatives that connect communities across the state. During his tenure as IPL, Matejka was, according to Ross Gay, “actively on the road for poetry,” taking very seriously this chance to bring workshops and programs to spaces where poetry might not always be a central mode of engagement. Matejka says, “Most people are receptive to poetry when poetry and the poets who write it are receptive to them. I find joy and satisfaction in bringing poetry to communities that may not otherwise have regular access to it—either because of economics, age, geography, infrastructure or whatever.” He has organized programs geared toward often overlooked communities in Indianapolis, facilitating a free monthly workshop at the Center for Black Literature and Culture at the Central library (not far from where Etheridge Knight used to run his Free Peoples Workshops in the 1970s and 1980s). For Matejka the most important thing in his position as IPL was “getting poetry in front of the people of this state.”
Matejka has also been working to create a physical and digital archive of Indiana poetry to help catalog the great history of poetry in the state, and to invite opportunities for contemporary poets to place themselves within a broader literary tradition. Matejka is particularly attuned to some of the far-reaching possibilities of poetry as an art form—one that is continuously evolving and renewing to greet whatever is most urgent in our cultural and political landscape. In his own words, “Right now, when things are more busted politically than they have been in the 47 years I’ve been on the planet, we need poets and their poems to remind us that, this too, is only a small part of our capacious existences. Poets and their poems can remind us that we are not alone in our anger or our sadness.”
Matejka was selected by the Indiana Arts Commission in part for his dedication and generosity as a literary practitioner. Equal parts poet and educator, Matejka is a committed community member—he teaches, endorses books, judges contests, and mentors young folks. With deep roots in Indiana, Matejka saw his role as IPL as a unique opportunity to give back to the place that partly shaped him, and to continue some of the traditions of poetic celebration and outreach established before him. The rich literary history of the state is not lost on him—indeed, Matejka takes his place among a powerful lineage of heroes including Mari Evans, Etheridge Knight, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lynda Hull, Kevin Young and many others who have spent time writing here in Indiana.