Ted Kooser

US Poet Laureate (2004-2006)
Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet


"There is a sense of quiet amazement at the core of all Kooser's work." —Ed Hirsch


“For more than thirty years Ted Kooser has written poems that deftly bring dissimilar things into telling unities. Throughout a long and distinguished writing career, he has worked toward clarity and accessibility, making a poetry as fresh and spontaneous as a good watercolor. A gyroscope balanced between a child's hands, a jar of buttons that recalls generations of women, and a bird briefly witnessed outside a window—each reveals the remarkable within an otherwise ordinary world.” —Poetry Daily


“Ted [Kooser] is one of the true treasures.” —Coleman Barks

Two-time United States Poet Laureate (2004-2006), the highly regarded Nebraskan poet Ted Kooser was the first poet from the Great Plains to hold the position. A professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he is the author of eleven full-length collections of poetry, including Weather Central (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994) and Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon), which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. Kooser’s writing is known for its clarity, precision, and accessibility; and his poems are included in textbooks and anthologies used in both secondary schools and college classrooms across the country. In addition to poetry, Kooser has written in a variety of forms including plays, fiction, personal essays, literary criticism, and children's books. As Poet Laureate he started the American Life in Poetry project.

The Poetry Home Repair Manual (University of Nebraska Press, 2005) gives beginning poets tips for their writing. Lights on a Ground of Darkness (University of Nebraska Press, 2010) is a memoir of family stories. His first book of prose, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps (University of Nebraska Press, 2002), won the Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction in 2003 and Third Place in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award in Nonfiction for 2002. The book was chosen as the Best Book Written by a Midwestern Writer for 2002 by Friends of American Writers.  It also won the Gold Award for Autobiography in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards. He has two children's books from Candlewick Press, Bag in the Wind (2010), illustrated by Barry Root, and The House Held Up by Trees (2012). Two new books of poems, Splitting An Order (Copper Canyon) and The Wheeling Year (University of Nebraska Press), will be available in 2014. In the spring of 2014, a literary biography of Kooser written by Mary K. Stillwell will be published by University of Nebraska.

Over the years his works have appeared in many periodicals including The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Poetry, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, and Antioch Review. He has received two NEA fellowships in poetry, the Pushcart Prize, the Stanley Kunitz Prize, The James Boatwright Prize, and a Merit Award from the Nebraska Arts Council.

Born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939, Kooser earned a BS at Iowa State University in 1962 and an MA at the University of Nebraska in 1968. He is a former vice-president of the Lincoln Benefit Life, where he worked as an insurance representative for many years. He lives on an acreage near the town of Garland, Nebraska, with his wife, Kathleen Rutledge, and dogs, Alice and Howard. He also has a son, Jeff, and a granddaughter, Margaret.

About THE HOUSE HELD UP BY TREES, Illustrated by Jon Klassen (Children's Book, 2012)
When the house was new, not a single tree remained on its perfect lawn to give shade from the sun. The children in the house trailed the scent of wild trees to neighboring lots, where thick bushes offered up secret places to play. When the children grew up and moved away, their father, alone in the house, continued his battle against blowing seeds, plucking out sprouting trees. Until one day the father, too, moved away, and as the empty house began its decline, the trees began their approach. At once wistful and exhilarating, this lovely, lyrical story evokes the inexorable passage of time—and the awe-inspiring power of nature to lift us up. From Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Ted Kooser and rising talent Jon Klassen comes a poignant tale of loss, change, and nature's quiet triumph.

Like the yellow, pink, and blue irises that had been transplanted from house to house over the years, the stories of poet Ted Kooser’s family had been handed down until, as his mother lay ill and dying, he felt an urgency to write them down. With a poet’s eye for detail, Kooser captures the beauty of the landscape and the vibrancy of his mother’s Iowa family, the Mosers, in precise, evocative language. The center of the family’s love is Kooser’s uncle, Elvy, a victim of cerebral palsy. Elvy’s joys are fishing, playing pinochle, and drinking soda from the ice chest at his father’s roadside Standard Oil station. Kooser’s grandparents, their kin, and the activities and pleasures of this extended family spin out and around the armature of Elvy’s blessed life. Kooser has said that writing this book was the most important work he has ever undertaken because it was his attempt to keep these beloved people alive against the relentless erosion of time.

About DELIGHTS AND SHADOWS (Poetry, 2004)
Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. For more than thirty years the 13th United States Poet Laureate (2004–2006) Ted Kooser's poems have offered proof that poetry need not be forbidding, nor difficult, nor intentionally obscure. Here is a poet who works toward clarity and accessibility so that each distinctive poem appears to be as fresh and bright and spontaneous as a good watercolor painting. He is a haiku-like imagist and the "tender wisdom" infusing his poems has been compared to Chekov's. These qualities are in abundance in Delights and Shadows, as Kooser draws inspiration from the overlooked details of daily life. Quotidian objects like a pegboard, creamed corn, and a forgotten salesman’s trophy help reveal the remarkable in what before was a merely ordinary world.

The Poetry Foundation has formed a partnership with the Library of Congress to support the American Life in Poetry project, an initiative of Ted Kooser in his role as Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress. 
American Life in Poetry is a free weekly column for newspapers and online publications featuring a poem by a contemporary American poet and a brief introduction to the poem by Ted Kooser. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry. In recent years poetry has all but disappeared from newsprint. Yet the attraction to it is still strong. Kooser, whose wife and son both work in journalism, writes, "Newspapers are close to my heart and my family. As Poet Laureate I want to show the people who read newspapers that poetry can be for them, can give them a chuckle or an insight." To read the current column, or to view the column archives, visit American Life in Poetry.

Ted Kooser website