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Whitworth English lecturer named Spokane’s inaugural poet laureate

October 8, 2013

Thom Caraway, a senior lecturer in the Whitworth English Department, has been named Spokane’s first poet laureate. An award-winning poet and longtime resident of Spokane, Caraway will join the Spokane Arts Commission in promoting and supporting Spokane’s vibrant literary community and expressing the spirit of the city outside of Eastern Washington.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be the first laureate ever appointed for Spokane,” Caraway says. “Spokane is home to a number of very talented poets, and I look forward to working with all of them to promote the arts in the city and beyond.”

One of Caraway’s goals as poet laureate will be to confront the idea that poetry is not something that everybody can enjoy. “The perception is that poetry is an elitist art form, and most people don’t feel like they can ‘get’ poetry, but it’s one of the oldest art forms we have,” he says. “Its power is primal, and there’s something there for everyone.”

According to Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, the purpose of the Spokane Poet Laureate is to articulate and reflect the essence of life in the greater Eastern Washington region. “Between Caraway’s work at Whitworth and his home in West Central, he sees stark differences in our city daily, and his writing reflects that,” Stuckart says. “He eloquently brings together the contrasting sides of Spokane – the poverty, harshness and grittiness with the affluence, peacefulness and natural beauty.”

Caraway earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of North Dakota, and an MFA in creative writing and a B.A. in English from Eastern Washington University. He serves as editor-in-chief of Whitworth’s literary journal, Rock & Sling, and is publisher and founder of Sage Hill Press. He is the author of the collection A Visitor’s Guide to North Dakota: Poems, and his work has been published in multiple literary journals. He has also been a featured reader at many of Spokane’s reading series, including the annual Get Lit! festival.

Caraway has been recognized for excellence in both writing and teaching. He has twice won the Thomas McGrath Prize for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets. Most recently, he was named Whitworth Contingent Faculty of the Year in spring 2012.

“Thom was selected on his reputation as a writer and citizen,” says Karen Mobley, program manager for the Spokane Arts Fund. “The committee loved his poems and was very excited that his work represents the spirit of the West Central neighborhood, which has a strong ‘can-do’ attitude.”

As a spokesperson for the area’s literary community, Caraway will help reinforce the role of literature in civic life and will actively participate in ceremonial, educational and cultural activities in the community during his two-year term of service. The term began in October and includes a $2,000 stipend.

The Spokane Poet Laureate selection panel included the Poetry Foundation Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt; director of Spokane Public Libraries Andrew Chanse; arts commissioners Adam Boyd, Mariesa Stokes and Allen Duffy; Lucia Huntington, immediate past chair of Humanities Washington; and Spokane City Council president Ben Stuckart. Members of the arts commission and the arts fund board coordinated the search and selection.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian church. The university, which has an enrollment of 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Thom Caraway, senior lecturer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4797 or

Lucas Beechinor, media relations manager, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or