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2009 Poet Laureate of Texas

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About Paul Ruffin

Paul Ruffin was born in the hamlet of Millport, Alabama, and grew up on Sand Road, five miles outside Columbus, Mississippi, son of a toilet-seat-assembly-line worker with a third-grade education. He writes about this background in a memoir titled Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White But Not Quite Trash.


After a stint in the Army, Ruffin enrolled at Mississippi State University with his eye on earning a degree in Electrical Engineering. While attending M.S.U., he worked at Parker Furniture Store in Columbus for several years. During that time he married Jackie Wilkinson, with whom he had a son, Scott.


While pursuing his bachelor’s degree, he fell under the spell of an American Literature professor and Chair of the English Department, Dr. Robert Holland, who talked him into switching his major to English. This he did, and he walked away with a B.S., which he put to use teaching English at Hamilton High, north of Columbus, and then at Lee High and Caldwell High in Columbus. During this period he earned his M.A. in English at M.S.U.


After two summer trips to Europe, during which he took post-grad courses at the University of Southampton in Great Britain, he took a wild third trip one summer and made resolutions that would radically alter his future. When he returned, he resigned his high-school position, asked for a divorce, and accepted a lectureship at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg; he also began his doctoral work in the Center for Writers there.


After his divorce came through, he married a former U.S.M student of his, Sharon Krebs, and they moved to Columbus, where Ruffin taught at a year at M.S.U. before accepting a position at Sam Houston State University, where he has taught since. He is the founding editor and Editor-in-Chief of The Texas Review, an international literary journal, and founder/director of Texas Review Press, a member of the Texas A & M University Press Consortium.


Along the way, he and Sharon had two wonderful children: Genevieve, who lives with her husband Max in Germany, and Matthew, who is living with his mom in Gautier, MS.


After he and Sharon divorced in 2006, Ruffin moved to Montgomery County, just outside Willis, where he enjoys a relaxed life with his dog, truck, and John Deere 2305.


In recent years he has been honored with the titles of Texas State University System Regents’ Professor and Distinguished Professor of English, and this year the legislature selected him as 2009 Texas State Poet Laureate.


During his extensive writing career Paul Ruffin has published nearly 800 poems, 100+ stories, and over fifty familiar essays in magazines and journals in this country and abroad, and his work has appeared in numerous anthologies and textbooks. (See a selective listing on his vita.) In addition, he has written numerous reviews and feature articles and published more than a thousand column pieces in newspapers. He currently writes a week column, Ruffin-It, which appears in a small number of papers.


His books include two novels, three collections of short stories, two books of essays, six collections of poetry, and eleven edited or co-edited books on such topics as Southern fiction, New England poetry, William Goyen, and John Steinbeck. Early in 2010 TCU Press will be releasing his New and Selected Poems as part of their Texas Poet Laureate Series, and Louisiana Literature Press will publish his third collection of essays. A French publisher will be releasing a collection of the best of his short fiction in 2010, and Ruffin’s agent is currently attempting to place Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White But Not Quite Trash with a publishing house.


His fiction and poetry have won several awards, including the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Award for Circling, and his poetry has been praised by such luminaries as James Dickey and Willie Morris.


Currently Ruffin is putting together a collection of essays titled Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur for consideration by University of South Carolina Press, and he is working on a collection of his dramatic poems and a three-volume collection of his Ruffin-It pieces.