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One Eckerd professor follows another as St. Pete poet laureate

By Tom Scherberger
Published October 13, 2015
Categories: Academics, Community Engagement, Creative Writing, Literature

One Eckerd professor follows another as St. Pete poet laureate

Hellen Pruitt Wallace

Helen Pruitt Wallace

Retired Eckerd professor Peter Meinke will soon step aside as the first poet laureate of St. Petersburg.

Eckerd professor Helen Pruitt Wallace will take his place, effective Jan. 1.

It’s not required that an Eckerd professor serve as the poet laureate of St. Pete.

It just worked out that way.

“It’s a nice honor but it’s a little scary to follow Peter,’’ says Wallace, who has taught creative writing at Eckerd for 12 years and is a former faculty advisor to the literary magazine, Eckerd Review.

Meinke was recently named poet laureate of Florida by Gov. Rick Scott. Meinke joined Eckerd in 1966 as its first director of creative writing and taught for 27 years. He influenced scores of young writers—including Wallace.

He encouraged her to attend graduate school and she eventually earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English at Florida State University. She also holds a B.A. in English from the University of the South and a master’s degree in speech language pathology from George Washington University.

She and Meinke will participate in a “Passing of the Laurels” during the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading at USF St. Petersburg on Saturday, Oct. 24, where they will each read some of their poetry.

As the city’s poet laureate, Wallace said she hopes to organize poetry readings and workshops around St. Petersburg. “My goal is to convince people of the power of poetry, to get people excited about putting words together to express emotions,” she said. “I feel strongly that poetry needs a big umbrella. There are all kinds of poets out there.”

To that end, Wallace plans to hold a series of programs and workshops at the Dali Museum beginning in December. The programs, to be held on the second Thursday of the month through April (except March), will feature a variety of poets reading their works. Two workshops are also planned during that time to help poets hone their craft. Other plans for readings and workshops are still in the planning stages.

Like many people, Wallace began writing poetry as a child. “That impulse comes at a very young age, to put sounds together,” she said. “It wasn’t until college that I wrote more seriously and approached it as a craft.”

Her first collection of poems, Shimming the Glass House, won the Richard Snyder Prize for Poetry and a bronze Florida Book Award. She was as co-editor of the anthology Isle of Flowers, and her poems have been published in several journals and anthologies. She and her husband, Peter, grew up in St. Petersburg and raised their children here. Learn more about her at her website

As St. Petersburg’s first poet laureate, Meinke plowed new ground. Wallace said she was so excited about Meinke’s becoming Florida’s fourth poet laureate in the state’s history that “I never thought about what would happen with the St. Pete poet laureate. When I heard from the selection committee, it came out of the blue.

“It’ll be fun to follow in his footsteps and try to learn from all the cool things he did to promote poetry in our community.”