UMKC mourns the death of longtime English Professor Michelle Boisseau
Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet and University of Missouri-Kansas City English Professor Michelle Boisseau died Nov. 15 at her home in Kansas City.
Throughout her literary career, Boisseau wrote five books of poetry, a chapbook (a small book of poetry centered on a specific theme), and won several awards, including a 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship Award, a Pulitzer Prize and a Best American Poetry award. Her renown served as a recruiting tool in itself as many students and faculty have been drawn to UMKC for the opportunity to work with her. She was known to bend over backwards to help cultivate students’ work and influence them to submit their work for publication and awards.
“She had confidence in me where I didn’t have confidence in myself,” said poetry student Lindsey Weishar, adding that Boisseau’s love for poetry is something she aspires to.
Boisseau, described by colleagues and students as a charismatic national voice and student of nature, began teaching at UMKC in 1995 and had a significant impact on the university’s English Department. She was instrumental in the development and growth of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Media Arts (MFA) program, which has attracted students and faculty from across the nation to Kansas City and UMKC.
During a recent celebration of Boisseau’s indelible impact on literary arts, English Department co-chair Virginia Blanton said the last 22 years of Boisseau’s life “were devoted to UMKC in ways that have made us a phenomenal department and an amazing university and place to work.” Boisseau maintained long-time friendships across the university and served as a strong voice in curricular development in the English Department as well as other areas.
As a nationally recognized poet and contributor to literary arts, Boisseau brought many renowned poets to UMKC to showcase their work and allow students an opportunity to take master classes and make connections with some of the best authors and poets in the United States.
“Her career was enormous and it was going even further with her recent Guggenheim award,” said Blanton. “Who knows what her luminosity would have been if she hadn’t given so much of her service time to us.”
Boisseau was widely known for her large personality and sense of humor. Those who knew her well spoke of her contagious energy and ability to connect with and inspire others.
“She really wanted people to be their best selves,” said Blanton.
Students, faculty and friends of Boisseau say although she has gone, her words and her impact will always remain. Memorial services will take place at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28 at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64114.
The Work of Michelle Boisseau
Ugglig, a poem from Among the Gorgons – 2016 Best American Poetry
Among the Gorgons (University of Tampa Press, 2016) – 2016 Tampa Review Prize
A Sunday in God Years (University of Arkansas Press, 2009) – Pulitzer Prize nomination
Trembling Air (University of Arkansas Press, 2003) – PEN USA finalist
Understory (Northeastern University Press, 1996) – 1996 Morse Prize
No Private Life (Vanderbilt, 1990)
Writing Poems 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8th edition (Longman)
Boisseau has twice received the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and two prizes from The Poetry Society of America. Her work has also appeared in Poetry, Gettysburg Review, Yale Review, Georgia Review, and more. She served as associate editor of BkMk Press, and was a member of The Poetry Society of America and PEN America.
“She encouraged students to be the next torchbearers of poetry.”
– John Moesner, 3rd poetry student
In honor of Michelle Boisseau, a scholarship fund has been set up to support an undergraduate student in poetry. Click here to donate directly to the Michelle Boisseau Scholarship.