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Poet laureate writes about what's happening around Texas (audio)

By Carolina Astrain
Nov. 17, 2013 at 5:17 a.m.
Updated Nov. 18, 2013 at 5:18 a.m.

Any time Paul Ruffin has the opportunity to write about something he's interested in, he takes it.

Ruffin, 72, was named the Texas poet laureate in 2009 and teaches at Sam Houston State University.

The Alabama native will give a reading at the University of Houston-Victoria on Thursday as part of the American Book Review reading series.

From the Bastrop wildfires that destroyed more than 1,000 homes in 2011 to Hurricane Katrina and grass fires in Abilene, Ruffin likes to write about it all.

"If something exciting is going on around the state, I'll go write about it," Ruffin said.

Once, the author found himself in a friend's backyard, where he stumbled upon his friend's mother speaking in tongues.

She was rehearsing, Ruffin said.

"I thought that was quite amusing," Ruffin said. "So I wrote a column about it."

After that, a Mississippi prayer group of about 50 people started a petition against Ruffin's column running in the local paper.

"You've got to be really careful with religious issues," Ruffin said. "And I generally steer clear of politics because nobody really knows what they're talking about. Everybody just has an opinion, and you're not going to change anybody's mind, so why bother?"

While he approaches several of his pieces with a critical tone, most of them end on a light-hearted note, Ruffin said.

"Most of my stuff has an upbeat conclusion to it," Ruffin said. "I'm fairly optimistic about most things."

In 2009, Ruffin was named the state's poet laureate. The author said that although there was no cash prize, he enjoyed visiting the Capitol to receive the award.

"That was the best part of it," Ruffin said. "Getting to go to Austin and being in the House and Senate chambers and being recognized."

Growing up, Ruffin said, his family did not have running water until his junior high school years.

His memoir, "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White But Not Quite Trash," chronicles his childhood.

"We had zero technology at home," Ruffin said. "The radio was all we had."

Ruffin was the first in his family, on both sides, to go to college.

"I was simply driven to better myself," Ruffin said. "I just refused to be poor after I got out of that terrible background."



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