In December 2003, The Governor of Illinois named Kevin Stein Illinois Poet Laureate, filling the position previously held by Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, and Howard Austin. This accolade is one of many Stein has earned during his career as poet, critic, editor, and teacher. Stein is author of seven poetry collections, three scholarly books, two poetry anthologies, numerous poems and essays published in journals as well as anthologies. This work has received wide acclaim from reviewers, including recent pieces by Julia Keller in the Chicago Tribune and Mark Eleveld in the Chicago Sun-Times. His newest collection, Sufficiency of the Actual, appeared in January 2009 from University of Illinois Press. His 2005 collection American Ghost Roses (University of Illinois Press) was praised by David Wojahn for its “impeccable craft” and by Edward Hirsch for its “particularly American . . . way of fooling around to get at something deep and necessary.” In addition, American Ghost Roses garnered the Society of Midland Authors 2006 Poetry Award.
Two other collections, Chance Ransom (2000)and Bruised Paradise (1996), also appeared in the University of Illinois Press Poetry Series. Earlier, his first poetry volume, A Circus of Want (University of Missouri Press, 1992), earned the prestigious Devins Award for Poetry. Elsewhere, his poetry has been honored with the Frederick Bock Prize awarded by Poetry, the 1998 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, and four Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards – the most recent awarded in 2007 to his poem “Middle-aged Adam’s and Eve’s Bedside Tables.” In addition, Stein has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship and three such fellowships granted by the Illinois Arts Council, as well as grant support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2004 he was awarded the Vernon Louis Parrington Medal for Distinguished Writing. His poems and essays have appeared widely in journals such as American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Colorado Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, Southern Review, and TriQuarterly.
In addition to writing poetry, Stein has written several scholarly works, including his book of essays, Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press, 2010). This book rejects the currently trendy notion that poetry is dead and instead argues for its lively hereafter in our increasingly digital age. The book surveys the current poetry scene, traces how we arrived here, and suggests where we’re going given technological innovations in the ways poetry is written and distributed. Another work, Private Poets, Worldly Acts (Ohio University Press, 1996; rpt 1999), examines the intersection of public and private history in the work of nine American poets, including Robert Lowell, Adrienne Rich, Frank O’Hara, and Yusef Komunyakaa. This volume was named a 1997 Recommended Book by Amazon.Com, the citation applauding how the book’s “insightful visions” lift readers “beyond just reading a poem – to reading between its lines.” Also, Stein’s James Wright: The Poetry of a Grown Man (Ohio University Press, 1989) remains the benchmark study of this important American poet.
Stein extended his scholarly interests by editing two important anthologies of Illinois poetry. In 2007 Stein edited Bread & Steel, the first-ever audio CD poetry anthology of 24 Illinois poets reading their works. Sales from this audio CD supported Stein’s Poetry Now! Initiative. This Poet Laureate project donated funds to Illinois libraries for the purchase of books by Illinois poets. Over 30 libraries participated in this project.
With the late poet G. E. Murray, Stein also edited Illinois Voices: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Poetry (University of Illinois Press, 2001). This volume offers the first comprehensive anthology of Illinois poetry’s rich twentieth-century heritage. Following the publication of Illinois Voices, Stein and Murray traveled throughout the state to lead discussions and readings from the anthology at libraries in locales such as Chicago, Charleston, Peoria, Springfield, and Urbana.
Stein’s efforts as professor and creative writing program coordinator at Bradley have garnered the University’s highest honors, including Bradley Faculty Member of the Year and the Samuel Rothberg Award for Professional Excellence. In 2000, Stein was named Caterpillar Professor of English, an honor recognizing his accomplishments as poet, critic, editor and teacher. Married for more than thirty years, Stein resides with his wife Deb and their two children in Dunlap, Illinois.