The native Californian will take up her duties Oct. 16 by reading her work at the opening of the Library’s annual literary series. She also will be a featured guest at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in the Poetry pavilion Sept. 27 on the National Mall.
“Kay Ryan is a distinctive and original voice within the rich variety of contemporary American poetry,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said a statement. “She writes easily understandable short poems on improbable subjects. Within her compact compositions there are many surprises in rhyme and rhythm and in sly wit pointing to subtle wisdom.”
Ryan was born in 1945 in San Jose and was raised in the Central Valley of California, where her father was an oil driller. In 1971, she moved to Marin County, where she still lives. For 33 years, Ryan has taught remedial English at the College of Marin.
“In our home, something like being a poet would be thought of as putting on airs,” Ryan told the NewsHour in June 2006. “It would be embarrassingly pretentious, and educated, and snobbish. And so that, as a writer, I’ve always been very sensitive to not being pretentious and to being sure that I didn’t put on airs. I mean, it’s all right to be intelligent and to use every possible aspect of language, but never to be pompous.”
Her poems, which are often brief and ponderous, are also characterized by their wit and unusual perspectives and wisdom. She counts William Carlos Williams, Philip Larkin and John Donne among her favorites.
“Silence means a great deal to me, and I’ve learned to distinguish a great number of forms of silence,” Ryan said. “My poems talk about a palpable silence, that creamy, latexy kind of silence that we know, even when we’re experiencing it as a giant luxury, like a dream luxury.”
Ryan is the author of six books of poetry. Her awards include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation; a Guggenheim fellowship; a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; and four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets since 2006.
“It’s kind of a thrill to go from nothing to this,” she told The Associated Press. “This is probably going to keep me so occupied that it will discourage any contact with the deeper mind. But my deeper mind needs a break.”
Ryan told the AP that she was “delighted and surprised” to receive the job. Upon hearing that the Library of Congress had called, she thought to herself, “I can’t have that many overdue books.”
Ryan succeeds Charles Simic, who served for one year.