The State’s First Poet Laureate

Gov. R. Gregg Cherry, who appointed Abernethy poet laureate. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.On November 28, 1948Arthur Talmage Abernethy was appointed Poet Laureate, just before the end of Governor R. Gregg Cherry’s term of office. Abernethy’s term was to expire with the end of Cherry’s term. Abernethy therefore was officially Poet Laureate for only a few weeks, from November 28, 1948 until January 5, 1949.  However, because Governor Kerr Scott did not appoint a successor, Abernethy remained the designated Poet Laureate until August 1953, when Governor William Umstead appointed James Larkin Pearson to the post.

Abernethy’s career included time as a professor and a journalist, and he also served as a magistrate and justice of the peace, frequently filing his annual reports in verse. He also found time to write more than 50 books and thousands of poems. The books covered history, southern folklore and evangelical subjects. Surprisingly, history records none of his poetry published in book form.

North Carolina has had seven Poets Laureate. Writer and professor Joseph Bathanti was named to the position in September 2013, succeeding Cathy Smith Bowers.

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