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Irene McKinney


Poet Irene McKinney (April 20, 1939 – February 4, 2012) was born in Belington, Barbour County. She received her bachelor’s degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1968, her master’s from West Virginia University in 1970, and her Ph.D. from the University of Utah in 1980. Her first book of poems, The Girl with the Stone in Her Lap, was published in 1976. She was the director of creative writing at West Virginia Wesleyan College, having also taught at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Utah, and Huttonsville Correctional Center.

In 1984, McKinney’s collection of poetry, The Wasps at the Blue Hexagons, was published. She won a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985. She has also won the Utah Arts Council Prize Award in Fiction, the Breadloaf Scholarship, the Cincinnati Review Annual Poetry Prize, the Kentucky Foundation for Women Award, and the Appalachian Mellon Fellowship. Governor Gaston Caperton appointed her state poet laureate in 1993. McKinney served as poet-in-residence for the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and was the cofounder of Trellis, a West Virginia poetry journal. Her other collections of poetry were Quick Fire and Slow Fire (1988), Six O’clock Mine Report (1989), Vivid Companion (2004), and Unthinkable: Selected Poems 1976-2004 (2009).

Irene McKinney died in Buckhannon. A fund in her memory, the Irene McKinney Award for West Virginia Wesleyan MFA Students, has been established at the college.

Written by James Slack


  1. Anderson, Colleen. Coming Home Again-And Again. Charleston Gazette, 6/2/1989.

  2. New State Poet Laureate Chosen. Charleston Gazette, 12/2/1993.