CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Irene McKinney, who returned to her native West Virginia and served as the state's poet laureate for nearly two decades, died Saturday morning at the age of 72.
McKinney, who was also the director of the creative writing program at West Virginia Wesleyan College, wrote "lyrical poetry [that] is steeped in the rural Appalachian landscape and frequently explores the connections between people and place," according to her biography on the Poetry Foundation's website.
"She is a great loss to the state of West Virginia," said Buckhannon native and novelist Jayne Anne Phillips. "She made West Virginia real, sensory and important in all its timeless variety, the land, farms, the people and animals, the rituals. She knew the meaning of home place."
McKinney was born April 20, 1939, in Belington, Barbour County, where she grew up on her family's farm.
After getting a bachelor's degree from West Virginia Wesleyan and a master's degree from West Virginia University, McKinney published her first book of poems, "The Girl with the Stone in Her Lap," in 1976.
Her other collections include "The Wasps at the Blue Hexagon" (1984), "Quick Fire and Slow Fire" (1988), "Six O'Clock Mine Report" (1989), "Vivid Companion" (2004) and "Unthinkable: Selected Poems 1976-2004" (2009).
In addition to West Virginia Wesleyan, McKinney taught at the University of Utah (where she earned a doctorate in 1980), the University of California at Santa Cruz, Western Washington University and Hamilton College.
Among her many honors were a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and her poems were repeatedly featured on "The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor" on National Public Radio.
McKinney was named West Virginia's poet laureate by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton. In a 2009 interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, she said she didn't subscribe to the idea that a poet laureate should have to do a lot besides be a good poet.