Get to Know: Twyla Hansen
Home: Hansen grew up near Lyons, Neb. Her family moved to Lincoln when she was in high school. She still lives there.
Education: An bachelor's degree in horticulture and a master's degree in agroecology, both from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Hobbies: Exercise, including walking, and attending writers groups.
Family: Married with one adult son and two granddaughters.
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Twyla Hansen doesn't want her new post as the third Nebraska State Poet to be simply an honor.
She wants to use the post to bring about change — and to teach people that poetry isn't scary.
Hansen is the first woman to be a Nebraska State Poet and only the third Nebraskan to have the post: In 1927, John Neihardt got the title of Nebraska Poet Laureate in perpetuity. The state's second appointed poet, William Kloefkorn, got the post in 1982 and held it until he died in 2011 at age 79. Kloefkorn was one of Hansen's mentors.
Hansen knew she was a finalist in the running for the post this summer, and she already had ideas of what she wanted to do if she got it. The post should be educational, she thought. It should be an active position, and the state poet should work with schools, libraries and other writers. And it should have an end point, so other Nebraskans can take a stab at it. Then she waited.
“I was trying not to think about it too much,” she said.
The governor's office called and asked her for a head shot, and Hansen asked if she'd been selected. The person didn't know.
Then later that day, she got a second call, from another person, alerting her that they really needed that head shot before they sent out the announcement that she was the new state poet.
“I said, 'What? Wait a minute!' ” Hansen said. “So that's how I found out. It was pretty funny.”
Hansen has an extensive publishing history in books and magazines. She has won many awards for her work, including the High Plains Book Award, the WILLA Literary Award and two Nebraska Book Awards.
She spends about half of her time writing and the other half teaching and doing community outreach — what she hopes to do more of now that her State Poet title is official.
She presents two programs through the Nebraska Humanities Council, one where she does readings and talks about influences on her work, and a second that's a creative writing workshop called “Playing with Words.”
“I also want to bring the post into the 21st century through technology,” Hansen said.
She has plans to set up a web page on the Humanities Council site as well as a Facebook page where she'll share resources for the community and other writers. For instance, the heritage room inside the Bennett Martin Library in downtown Lincoln houses a collection of books by Nebraska authors and also hosts a reading series. The talks from that series used to be on tape. Then they were on CD. And now they're available on demand.
“More people could see those readings if we let people know they are there,” she said.
She said she knows the reading and understanding of poetry takes more time and effort.
“I think the people who take the time will find quite a bit to enjoy,” she said. “And have something to think about.”
Reading poetry, after all, is how Hansen became a poet herself. A book called Cottonwood County that featured poetry from Kloefkorn and Ted Kooser, the United States Poet Laureate, was one of her inspirations.
“It just spoke to me,” she said.
The book got her thinking about her background — she was raised on a farm — and the land, two subjects she focuses on in her own writing.
“Even though I had not had their experiences, it was universal,” she said.
She wants to, through her post, give other writers the same chance.
“That's the beauty of writing,” she said. “You never know when you write something the effect it might have on someone else.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1069, email@example.com, twitter.com/SBHOWH