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Margaret "Maggi" Britton Vaughn: Poet Laureate of Tennessee

Writing life sketches of poets, philosophers, politicians, and saints offers space for learning and honing critical thinking skills.

Margaret Britton Vaughn

Margaret Britton Vaughn

The Tennessee Poet Laureateship

Tennessee established the position of poet laureate in 1971 in the 87th General Assembly, House Joint Res. 115; 90th General Assembly, House Joint Res. 250; 99th General Assembly, House Joint Res. 133.

The first poet laureate was Richard M. "Pek" Gunn, who served from 1971 until 1994. In 1995, Margaret Britton Vaughn was appointed Tennessee’s second poet laureate. Vaughn will retain this position for life; in 1999, the position was converted to a lifetime appointment (1).

Brief Life Sketch of Maggi Vaughn

Margaret Britton Vaughn was born in 1938 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (2). Her family relocated to Gulfport, Mississippi, in the early 40s. In 1965, after having grown up in Gulfport, Vaughn relocated back to her native state of Tennessee. Before devoting herself to writing full time, she served in the field of journalism at several Nashville newspapers. She also taught school at the Webb School (3) in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.

In 2011, the widely noted late celebrity of po-biz, Maya Angelou (4), invited Vaughn for lunch at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. During the conversation, Angelou seemed to forget Vaughn's name, referring to the Tennessee poet laureate as "Bell Buckle," the name of the small Tennessee town in which Maggi Vaughn resides.

Maggi Vaughn and Maya Angelou

Maggi Vaughn and Maya Angelou

Maggi Vaughn: Poet Laureate of Tennessee

Maggi Vaughn: Poet Laureate of Tennessee

PBS pundit, Bill Moyers, also visited with Vaughn in Bell Buckle. About the visit with Bill Moyers, the poet has elaborated in an interview with Kory Wells for 2nd and Church (5)—a literary journal celebrating American writers, poets, and readers—stating that when Bill Moyers first met Vaughn, he told her that he had heard of her, and she replied, "Oh, good grief, you have not." But then he confirmed his claim, "I have, Maggi."

Maggi and the PBS host visited, sitting on a bench in front of "the old stores of Bell Buckle." She read poems to him, and a crowd gathered to hear her read. She retorted that the crowd was for Moyers, not her. But she admitted that Moyers enjoyed the visit, and someone later told her that as he was getting on the airplane Moyers was carrying a bunch of Vaughn’s book. She thus averred that it has been a good year for her.

Vaughn has expressed gratitude for the life she has lived following her dreams. In a visit to the Web School, she told the audience, "Don't let anyone throw water on the fire in your belly about what you want to do in your life. You do what you want to do."

Tennessee’s poet laureate is a genuine down-home girl, who still lives in the tiny town, a dot on the map about sixty miles southeast of Nashville, called Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where she operates Bell Buckle Press. She publishes other poets’ works as well as her own. She is renowned for welcoming visitors and swapping stories in her straw hat reminiscent of Minnie Pearl (6).

Interestingly, she retains the honor of being the only poet to be awarded the Mark Twain Fellowship to the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York. That fellowship is usually reserved for scholars who have written biographical works about Mark Twain (nom de plume of Samuel Clemens).

Minnie Pearl (stage name of Sarah Cannon)

Minnie Pearl (stage name of Sarah Cannon)

Vaughn’s Publications

Vaughn has published nineteen books, including collections of poetry, short stories, and children’s books. Her poetry has been printed in many magazines, journals, and newspapers. Her first critically acclaimed book of poetry, Fifty Years of Saturday Nights, was published in 1975 by Magluce Pub. Co.

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Additional works include Grand Old Saturday Night, The Light in the Kitchen Window, and a play, I Wonder If Eleanor Roosevelt Ever Made a Quilt. Vaughn's plays have been staged by the Nashville Barn Theatre, The Webb School, St. George Episcopal Church, the John Galt West End Theatre, and others. The National Quilters Convention enjoyed her production, I Wonder If Eleanor Roosevelt Ever Made a Quilt.

Vaughn has written country songs (7) and had them recorded by Charlie Louvin, Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, and Conway Twitty. She was commissioned to write a verse for the funeral of Jeanette Carter, late daughter of A. P. Carter, who is widely known as the "Original Song Catcher" in the history of country music. In 2004, Vaughn was honored by being nominated for a Grammy award.

"American Pickers" meet Bell Buckle's Maggi Vaughn

"American Pickers" meet Bell Buckle's Maggi Vaughn

Official Bicentennial Poem: "Who We Are"

Vaughn’s poem "Who We Are" (8) retains the honor of being declared the official poem of Tennessee's Bicentennial, 1796-1996, by Public Chapter 337 of the 100th General Assembly. The following excerpt features the opening lines from the bicentennial poem:

The fertile soil of Tennessee
Grew more than corn, tobacco, and cotton,
It grew a crop of people who are
Trailblazers, child raisers, flag wavers, soul savers.

Tennessee’s Rich History

In addition to the official bicentennial poem of Tennessee, Vaughn wrote "Mr. Tennessee Music Man," the official poem for the Tennessee state quarter (9), released by U.S. Mint in 2002.

Vaughn also wrote the governor's inaugural poem, and a poem celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Air Force. She has appeared in programs on PBS, USA, TNN, TNT, and the BBC, and on many local radio and TV programs.

Vaughn praises Tennessee’s rich history, scenic beauty, and its down-to-earth people that have always captured her imagination; these Tennessee qualities and values have remained her inspiration, as she sometimes grows nostalgic in The Light in the Kitchen Window about by-gone eras:

Perhaps the greatest decisions
that have been made anywhere
came from men in overalls
around the courthouse square

These lines open the poem, "The Old Courthouse Square," which goes on to describe a scene not likely to be observed in even the smallest town today.

About poetry, Vaughn has quipped, "Poetry is for everyone and we need to keep alive the message that is understood by all walks of life." Her collection of poems, The Light in the Kitchen Window, was published by Iris Press in Bell Buckle, TN, in 1994.

Maggi Vaughn

Maggi Vaughn

Margaret Britton Vaughn: Reading and Interview

Sources

  1. Librarian. "Tennessee." Library of Congress. February 23, 2018.
  2. Jay Mouton. "Margaret Britton Vaughn: Poet Laureate of Tennessee." The Chattanoogan. November 10, 2002.
  3. Editors. "2017 Poetry Contest Judge." Killer Nashville: Broken Ribbon. Accessed October 30, 2021.
  4. Official Web Site of the Web School.
  5. Kory Wells. "Issue 2 Web Extra: PBS's Bill Moyers & Maggi." 2nd & Church. Accessed October 30, 2021.
  6. Mary Walker. "Minnie Pearl." QuotesGram. Accessed October 30, 2021.
  7. Andy Landis. "A Southern Voice." Hopeful Transitions. November 10, 2015.
  8. Editors. "Official Poem of the Tennessee Bicentennial." Justia US Law. Accessed October 30, 2021.
  9. Editors. "Tennessee State Bicentennial Poem." eReference Desk. Accessed October 30, 2021.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

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