Illinois’ Poet Laureate Angela Jackson speaks with Paul Simon Institute


Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz

Pulliam Hall is reflected in a puddle on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, outside of Pulliam Hall in Carbondale, Illinois.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute has been hosting a series of live stream discussions called “Understanding Our New World” since April 2020 and recently they held a discussion with Illinois’ fifth Poet Laureate Angela Jackson just in time for national poetry month.

So far the Institute has heard from a variety of different people like the former President of Ireland, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and the head of the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, director of the Paul Simon Institute John Shaw said.

“We’ve been particularly interested in perspectives coming from Illinois, so it will be interesting to hear another voice. And Angela Jackson is the relatively new Poet Laureate and she has a very interesting and compelling voice,” Shaw said.


A Poet Laureate is a poet appointed to an honorary representative position in a particular country or region.

Jackson is a poet, novelist and playwright who has been published in many journals and anthologies in her career.

“She has a remarkable background and she is from Mississippi, she studied at Northwestern and the University of Chicago […]. She has written poetry, plays, novels and even a biography,” Shaw said.

Jackson said she moved from Mississippi to Chicago when she was very young and her neighborhood was a tight-knit community. She mentioned her and her siblings are writing a memory book about their time growing up there.

Jackson left her neighborhood and went to college at Northwestern and she said it felt like she went to the moon because it was so different from where she grew up.

She went into Northwestern as a pre-med major and decided to change her major because she did not like chemistry or calculus, Jackson said.

Jackson said her first job was traveling from school to school teaching kids about poetry and during her time at Northwestern she joined the OBAC, which is the Organization for Black American Culture.


She was first published nationally in Black World in 1971 and her first poetry book, Voodoo Love Magic, was published in 1974, for which she won an Academy American Poets Award from Northwestern.

“Angela Jackson is really one of the most important and interesting voices in our state and she has a perspective that is quite original and challenging. Most people in southern Illinois have not heard her before or met her. So I think this will be a unique opportunity for people to hear from an interesting person,” Shaw said.

After she graduated from Northwestern in 1977, she went on to earn her master’s from the University of Chicago.

Jackson has written many collections of poetry, like Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinner which won the Carl Sandburg Award and Chicago Sun Times/Friends of Literature Book of the year.

Many journals have published Jackson’s work, including First World, Mississippi Valley Review, River Oaks Review, Black Creation and Poetry in Motion. The first of her novel trilogy Where Must I Go was published by Northwestern University Press.

 Before becoming Illinois’ Poet Laureate, Jackson had earned many awards. She received five Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards for Fiction, one for Poetry, she was awarded Daniel Curley Award for Recent Illinois Short Fiction and many more.

“I definitely want to keep in touch with her and when COVID eases, we will invite her to campus for an in person visit,” Shaw said.

Staff reporter Janae Mosby can be reached at or on Twitter at @mosbyj.

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