Poetry in Action: Diane Raptosh uses words to build community
College of Idaho English professor Diane Raptosh considers poetry “the vehicle for getting the truth out and for shining the light into dark places.”
In 2013, Raptosh is firmly behind the wheel. In January, Raptosh was unanimously selected as Boise’s first Poet Laureate by the city’s Department of Art and History. And her road did not end at city limits – in May, she went on to earn the title of Idaho Writer in Residence, the state’s highest literary recognition and largest financial writing award.
The Writer-in-Residence is a three-year appointment that carries a $10,000 prize. Raptosh’s duties include sharing her work at four annual public readings and at special events in both urban and rural communities. She now is part of a list that includes some of Idaho’s finest writers, including literary luminaries Brady Udall, Anthony Doerr and Kim Barnes.
“I am thrilled and humbled to have the honor of serving as the state’s Writer in Residence,” Raptosh said. “To be an ambassador for literature at the level of the city and now of the state is one of the highest honors I can imagine. I am deeply grateful.”
Raptosh is a Pushcart Prize-nominated author of four books of poetry: American Amnesiac, Parents from a Different Alphabet, Labor Songs and Just West of Now. She received three ICA Creative Writing Fellowships and held residencies in the literary arts at the Banff Centre and The Studies of Key West. She is a 1983 C of I alumna and holds the College’s Eyck-Berringer Chair in English.
As Boise Poet Laureate for 2013, Raptosh was asked to address the topics of enterprise, environment and community in her work. As a teacher, she has shown a special talent for bringing students out of their comfort zone and helping them discover new inspiration and drive in life. Teaching courses in English, creative writing and poetry she is able to focus on how writing – poetry, in particular – is a tool to “say the unsayable.”
“[Poetry] can open the door to a different kind of life,” Raptosh said.
Raptosh says her greatest reward in teaching is the day-to-day breakthroughs her students make in their writing and in their perception of the world and their ability to understand the issues at hand in their communities.
Raptosh’s ‘The Prison Experience’ is among the most popular courses at the C of I. During winter term, students examine the American prison system through documentaries, interviews, statistics and studies, prison tours and writings from the incarcerated. Raptosh aims to bring awareness to current socio-political issues and encourages critical thought in all of her courses.
“Diane has truly taught me what it means to be a writer and poet,” said Ashley Barr, a recently graduated poet and creative writing major. “She is an asset even to students who do not see themselves as writers.”
In addition to the courses and workshops she teaches at the C of I, Raptosh also nominates students to present work at the annual National Undergraduate Literature Conference in Utah and helps arrange student internships in underprivileged areas.
The College of Idaho is a community of people who represent what it means to aim high in both scholarship and relationships. Raptosh continually aims to strengthen her relationship with community using the power of words and embraces her role to “shine the light into dark places.” As Poet Laureate and Writer in Residence, even more doors will open for her and her students.
“The position is not really about me at all,” Raptosh said. “I am just a way to help bring literacy and language to those who need it.”