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Aleda Shirley

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Aleda Shirley died Monday, June 16, 2008, after a long battle with cancer.
She was the author of three collections of poetry, Dark Familiar (Sarabande Books, 2006), Long Distance (Miami University Press, 1996), and Chinese Architecture (University of Georgia Press, 1986), which won the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber First Book Prize. She published poems in many magazines, including Poetry and American Poetry Review, and received, among many other awards, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council and the Mississippi Arts Council.
The publication of Dark Familiar was met with enthusiastic reviews, with Publisher's Weekly declaring that Shirley had "crafted a powerful return to poetry." Her work was deeply admired by readers and fellow poets, including Lucie Brock-Broido, who wrote of the poems in Dark Familiar, "These narratives are harrowing, and hallowed, striking, dark, familiar, strange, and beautiful, and wise."
Shirley was an extraordinary teacher who inspired students at the University of Mississippi and Millsaps College with her wicked sense of humor, her sharp perception about their intents, and her thorough knowledge of the popular worlds in which they traveled. She was the first Poet in the Schools in a Kentucky program that served as a national model through the National Endowment for the Arts. She helped establish and direct All Write!, a Mississippi Arts Commission program that places writers in community literacy programs and correctional facilities to teach creative writing to students working toward their GED.
She was an omnivorous reader who might in a single day turn from Proust to People magazine, Shakespeare to true crime, Joan Didion to James Ellroy. A brilliant conversationalist, she could discuss with passion, wit, and steely conviction the paintings of Mark Rothko, Manolo Blahnik shoes, the Kennedy family, late-night talk radio, the music of Joni Mitchell, the O.J. Simpson trial, the presidential campaign, how to cook coq au vin, and most other topics. Though she was the most interesting guest at any party, she was happiest at home in Belhaven with her husband Mike and her beloved cats.
Aleda Shirley was born in Sumter, South Carolina, May 2, 1955, to Guy and Betty J. Shirley. Her father served in the air force, and she moved frequently as a child but considered her homes to be Kentucky, where her family has deep roots, and Mississippi, where she lived from 1990 until her death. She earned her B.A. from the University of Louisville in 1975 and remained a passionate Cardinal basketball fan the rest of her life.
She is survived by her father, Guy Shirley, and her husband, Michael McBride, of Jackson, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins, and a large and devoted group of friends, readers, and students.
A memorial service will be held Monday, June 23, 2008, at 4 p.m. at the Mississippi Museum of Art, 380 S. Lamar Street, Jackson.
Published in Clarion Ledger on June 19, 2008
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