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YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. — This week, Governor Brian Kemp announced the appointment of Young Harris College Assistant Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing Chelsea Rathburn as the 11th Poet Laureate of Georgia.

Rathburn has authored three books of poetry, most recently “Still Life with Mother and Knife,” which was published last month by Louisiana State University Press. The collection was highlighted in National Public Radio’s 2019 Poetry Preview and The New York Times’ New and Noteworthy books column. Rathburn’s poems have appeared in some of the most prestigious literary magazines and journals, including Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The New Republic and The Oxford American.

Rathburn designed and launched YHC’s creative writing major in 2013, and since that time, numerous YHC students have won both state and national prizes for their writing, gained acceptances into some of the most competitive graduate creative writing programs in the country, and published their work in national magazines. “I am thrilled—but not surprised—that Chelsea has been appointed to this position,” said Dr. Mark Rollins, the dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities at YHC. “I cannot think of a better person to serve as an ambassador for poetry in our state. Chelsea’s talent speaks for itself, but her passion for her craft is equally impressive. Now people all over our state will learn what her students and colleagues already know.”

Born in Jacksonville and raised in Miami, Fla., Rathburn has deep roots in the state of Georgia, where her mother’s family has lived since the 1830s. Rathburn holds a B.A. from Florida State University and an M.F.A. from the University of Arkansas. Rathburn moved to Blairsville, Ga., from Decatur, Ga., where she taught poetry workshops at Emory University and chaired the poetry track for the Decatur Book Festival. She lives with her husband, the poet James Davis May, who also teaches at Young Harris College, and their daughter.

“It’s thrilling and a bit bewildering to be named to this position, and I’m honored to have a chance to advocate for poetry, literacy and Georgia’s rich literary culture,” said Rathburn. “Georgia has such a deep literary history, and I hope to highlight the ways that poetry, language and stories can connect us and help us build stronger communities.”

The position of Georgia’s Poet Laureate was established in 1925. In this position, Rathburn will be an ambassador for the literary arts in Georgia, championing the rich legacy of Georgia writers—past and present—and cultivating new audiences. In this role, Rathburn will serve every corner of the state to voice the value of reading, writing and literacy in the lives of every Georgian. The work of Georgia’s Poet Laureate is facilitated by the Georgia Council for the Arts on behalf of the Governor. Working closely with the Council’s Executive Director Karen Paty, Rathburn will continue programs to advance the literary arts in Georgia, such as the high school writing initiative and the Poet Laureate’s Prize, which was started by former Poet Laureate Judson Mitcham. She will also add innovative new initiatives to support literacy, poetry and creative writing.  

“Chelsea Rathburn is full of energy and will fulfill all the obligations of Poet Laureate with vigor and grace,” said poet David Bottoms, who served as the state’s Poet Laureate for 12 years. “More than this, she is a fine poet who knows how to teach student writers to use language to get at what’s important to them in their lives.”

Rathburn, a 2009 National Endowment for the Arts fellow, is the second Young Harris College professor to serve in the position of Georgia’s Poet Laureate. The late Bettie Sellers, who taught at the College for 32 years, held the position from 1997 until 2000.

About Young Harris College

Young Harris College is a private baccalaureate and master’s degree-granting institution located in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia. Founded in 1886 and historically affiliated with The United Methodist Church, Young Harris College educates, inspires and empowers students through an education that purposefully integrates the liberal arts and professional studies. The College has three academic divisions: Arts and Humanities, Professional Studies, and Mathematics, Science and Technology, with more than 1,400 students enrolled in its residential and Early College programs. The historic campus in Young Harris, Ga., has completed major campus improvements to accommodate the College’s growth. LEED-certified campus improvements include the 121,000-square-foot Rollins Campus Center, residence facilities and a 57,000-square-foot recreation and fitness center. The College is an active member of the NCAA Division II and remains a fierce competitor in the prestigious Peach Belt Conference. For more information, visit