Beth Anne Fennelly, M.F.A.

Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi, teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi, where she was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year. 


Fennelly was born in 1971 and grew up north of Chicago.  In 1993 she received her B.A. magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame.  The following year, Fennelly taught English in a coal mining village on the Czech/Polish border, then returned to the States to earn her M.F.A. as a Lily Peter Fellow from the University of Arkansas.  She spent a year at the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Creative Writing as the Diane Middlebrook Fellow.  After two years teaching at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, she moved to the University of Mississippi, where she’s a professor of English and former director of the MFA Program.  

Her own education was in Catholic schools, and quite patriarchal, and she's taken great joy in bringing necessary correctives into my classroom where the male gaze is not the default. Fennelly says, "I had very, very few female professors, for example, so doing something as simply as teaching in a nine-months-pregnant body has seemed deliciously, importantly radical.  So has actively mentoring women students as they consider their professional plans, marching in the Pride parade ("English Profs do it with Pride" read my poster), serving as an Isom affiliate, and including on my syllabi that I'm an Ally." 

Fennelly has won two teaching awards, the Liberal Arts Outstanding Teacher of the Year and the 2011 UM Humanities Teaching Award. She’s won grants and awards from the N.E.A., the United States Artists, a Pushcart, and a Fulbright to Brazil. Beth Ann has published six books--three of poetry: Open House, Tender Hooks, and Unmentionables, all with W. W. Norton. 

"When I arrived in Oxford in 2001," says Fennelly, "the MFA program was in its first year, kind of a 'soft opening' in which there were only 4 students.  4 white male students.  I came on board in 2002 and I'm very proud at having a hand in shaping our program to be a place of tremendous vitality and diversity.  During my years as the program director (I stepped down two years back to serve as our state's poet laureate, and my amazing colleague Derrick Harriell directs the program now) we were awarded the Graduate School's Award for Diversity in Graduate Education.  That was very affirming for me: we've grown from four white males to a program with a welcoming atmosphere for diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, and religious/political beliefs.  This philosophy has helped us attract amazing students and provided a space where they can safely write their best work, and their publications bring credit to the university."

Kevin Cozart