Missouri Poet Laureate is a UMKC Graduate

Maryfrances Wagner shares excitement about her prestigious nomination

Roos do amazing things, including earning one of the highest literary honors in the state.

Maryfrances Wagner, a UMKC alumna, was appointed to the position by Missouri Governor Michael Parson in July of 2021.

The blue and gold roots with Wagner go deep. After graduating with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UMKC, Wagner taught English for most of her career, including here at the university. During that time, she earned both local and state recognitions for Excellence in Teaching. In 2002, she became the English Coordinator for the High School College Partnership, a dual credit program, at UMKC. During those years, Wagner served on the composition committee, coordinated in-service programs on campus, wrote the composition handbook, and mentored thirty UMKC English teachers.

In addition, she is co-editor of the literary magazine I-70 Review and has served as President of The Writers Place where over the years, she has sponsored literary-based events throughout the community to include a number of programs that brought together poetry, music, and dance through improvisation.  She has also served as Secretary on the Board of Directors for Kansas City Creates, which sponsors the annual Fringe Festival.

Wagner is teaming up with fellow UMKC alums to create opportunities for current students exploring literary career fields at her alma matter

“In 1988, my husband [Greg Field, MA from UMKC] and I, along with Robert Stewart (MA from UMKC), established the Crystal Field Scholarship fund, a scholarship that goes to a UMKC creative writing student, and we still oversee that as well as have an annual scholarship reading as a fundraiser where professional writers help support emerging student writers.”

Her journey as a poet, however, began long before her time at UMKC.  She says, “When I was a child, my mother used to write little poems. She’d put them in our lunch bags, our suitcases, my brother’s duffel bag or on our pillows when we’d accomplished something significant. My father also wrote little poems in cards he gave to my mother.”

In eighth grade, a teacher assigned students to write about a particular topic, and her parents suggested she write a poem instead of an essay. That was her first foray in the art, and that passion would continue into her college years where she took creative writing classes to learn more about the craft.

Wagner says, “For the longest time I only showed my poems to friends, but my creative writing teachers encouraged me to try sending some poems out for publication, and after that, I kept on taking classes.”

She went on to publish nine collections of poetry, the latest The Immigrants’ New Camera. In 2020 she served as Missouri Individual Artist of the Year, the only writer to have received that award. In 2021, Wagner was nominated and appointed to serve as Missouri’s Poet Laureate

 “I have always been a strong advocate for the writing community,” Wagner said. “This role will give me the opportunity to help promote other Missouri writers. It will give me the opportunity to try to reach out there to people less familiar with poetry or even to people who think they don’t like poetry, and hopefully, after the pandemic is over, I’ll be able to do more workshops, readings and events around the state.”

Wagner is Missouri’s sixth poet laureate. Her two-year term started July 1 and runs through June 2023.

You can read and hear Wagner’s work in a variety of places. She’s hosting a series of podcasts with other Missourian poets. You can also purchase her collections on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or visit her on her website.

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Published: Oct 22, 2021

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