Yale Professor Elizabeth Alexander Named Inaugural Poet

Elizabeth Alexander, an award-winning poet and Yale professor of African American studies and English literature, has been selected to compose and read an original poem at the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009.

“I’m completely thrilled to have been chosen for this honor,” Alexander said. “Barack Obama is a man who understands the power and integrity of language. To be asked to turn my own words to this occasion and for this person is all but overwhelming.”

Alexander is only the fourth poet in modern American history to read at a presidential swearing-in ceremony. Her predecessors are Robert Frost, who recited “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, and Maya Angelou and Miller Williams, who read poems they had created for the occasion at President Clinton’s inaugurations.

Alexander, who earned a B.A. degree from Yale, M.A. from Boston University and Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of four books of poems, “The Venus Hottentot” (1990), “Body of Life” (1996), “Antebellum Dream Book” (2001) and “American Sublime,” which was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. “American Sublime” was selected as one of the 25 Notable Books of 2005 by the American Library Association, which described it as “Sparkling with humanity and unexpected grace.”

A scholar of African-American literature and culture, Alexander recently published a collection of essays, “The Black Interior.” She has read her work across the U.S. and in Europe, the Caribbean and South America, and her poetry, short stories, and critical prose have been published in dozens of periodicals and anthologies, including The Paris Review, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, The Village Voice and The Washington Post. Her verse play, “Diva Studies,” was produced at the Yale School of Drama in May 1996.

In 2007, Alexander was the first recipient of the $50,000 Jackson Prize for Poetry. Her other honors and prizes include the inaugural Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work contributing “to improving race relations in American society,” a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at the University of Chicago, the George Kent Award, a Guggenheim fellowship and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

In addition to her faculty appointments at Yale and the University of Chicago, Alexander has taught at Haverford College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Smith College, where she was Grace Hazard Conkling Poet-in-Residence and served as the first director of Smith’s Poetry Center.

In the News:

Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A ‘Challenge’
NPR - December 18, 2008

Yale Poet Prepares for Inauguration
AP/MSNBC - December 19, 2008

Yale Professor Elizabeth Alexander To Recite Poem at Inauguration
Hartford Courant - December 21, 2008

The Poetry of Politics
Elizabeth Alexander on Writing the Poem of a Lifetime

WSJ - JANUARY 5, 2009

The Intersection of Poetry and Politics
NYT - December 24, 2008

Poet Chosen for Inauguration Is Aiming for a Work That Transcends the Moment
NYT - December 20, 2008

Obama Chooses ‘The Perfect Inaugural Poet’
Philly - December 22, 2008

The Inaugural Poet
Selection Provides Civil Rights Symmetry

Washington Post - January 20, 2009

Yale Professor Elizabeth Alexander To Recite Poem at Inauguration
Hartford Courant - December 21, 2008

Inaugural Poet
Chicago Tribune - December 20, 2008

Poetry at Obama’s Inauguration
PBS Jim Lehrer News Hour - December 24, 2008


Elizabeth Alexander Official Web Site:

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325

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