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Spotlight on Napa


  • Rory McNamara

Napa poet laureate Beclee Wilson celebrates the written word.

There's a myth about writers, created over the years, that depicts them as lonely souls scribbling away outside of society. They're riddled with demons and too often misunderstood by the very masses they simultaneously loathe yet hope to attract. They're a complex and surly lot.

There may be some truth to the stereotype, but not for Beclee Wilson, who has served as Napa Valley poet laureate for the past two years.

"My background is in theater," she says. "I don't create in isolation, mining my emotions."

Instead, Beclee learned to appreciate connecting with an audience as a young thespian in one of the first child theater companies in the country. She was born a performer.

Beclee credits her parents and upbringing for ensuring that she was "surrounded by language and words." That appreciation carried through her advanced education, which included Northwestern University's School of Speech, a master's degree from the University of Michigan and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

It was during her college years that she met future husband John Wilson, who would eventually become executive vice president and chief economist for the Bank of America, as well as a teacher at UC Berkeley. They moved to St. Helena in 2000.

Napa Valley has proven to be a source of inspiration for Wilson—and provided her a sense of community, as well. She cherishes the town's history and even takes it upon herself to polish the brass at the local post office building, a structure that shares her birth year of 1940. Those planter boxes in front? That was her handiwork, too. A group of appreciative locals even created a joint birthday celebration for the two.

"The valley has been a wonderful place," Wilson says.

More than the town, though, Wilson finds inspiration and motivation through its children. A former grade-school teacher, she works with nearly every regional school to enhance an appreciation of poetry. Reaching kids has been her primary mission as Napa Valley's poet laureate, and she's worked with hundreds of them over the years.

As her stint comes to an end—a new laureate will be chosen in July—Wilson continues her campaign, benefiting from a grant that will enable school children to have their own poetry on display in a Yountville museum.

"It's a wonderful outlet for human beings of every age," Wilson says of poetry and the written word. "There's no moment in life that cannot be worked into a poem."

Wilson, in creating her own poetry, says she tries to "look at life and capture a moment in some way, using all of my senses—what am I seeing, smelling, hearing?"

She says she tries to "have an internal conversation" as she engages her surroundings and that "all of life around me has an opportunity" to inspire poetry.

These are exciting times for the poet, who just learned that her published works will be included in five upcoming international book fairs. Having her works translated into other languages isn't out of the question.

Wilson's focus remains on keeping poetry vibrant and alive among the young and respecting how vital poetry has been through the ages.

"All artistic ways of expressing life within a life around have been essential for a full life of creating and receiving through all human existence," she says.


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