Beall Poetry Festival Celebrates 30th Year at Baylor

Three-day literary event features former U.S. Poet Laureate and other distinguished guests, who will highlight contemporary poetry through readings, lecture and panel

March 28, 2024
Beall Poetry Festival 2024

WACO, Texas (March 28, 2024) – Baylor University will host the 30th annual Beall Poetry Festival April 3-5, a distinguished American literary event featuring contemporary poetry with readings, a panel discussion and the Virginia Beall Ball Lecture on Contemporary Poetry. Five highly awarded poets – including Pulitzer Prize-winning and former poet Laureate of the United States Tracy K. Smith –will be on campus to read and share their distinguished work with Baylor faculty, students and the local community. 

“To mark the festival’s 30th year, we are incredibly honored to have Tracy K. Smith return to Baylor to give another reading of her work. The festival has never before asked a poet back from a previous year, but we felt that an encore reading was warranted,” said Sarah Gilbreath Ford, Ph.D., professor of English and coordinator of the Beall Poetry Festival at Baylor. “Smith was the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and her books, such as Wade in the Water (2018) and Life on Mars (2011), are influential in literary circles and in the wider culture. Although her reading will be a special event, I hasten to add that the whole festival will be wonderful, featuring guests who are interesting thinkers and amazing poets.”         

At Baylor, poetry enjoys a long and rich legacy. Guided by Baylor professor A.J. Armstrong, Ph.D. (1873-1954), innovative poets like Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay and William Butler Yeats have visited campus to share their works with Baylor students and faculty. Previous Beall Poetry Festival participants have included Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and Nobel Prize in Literature winners. 

“We have been so fortunate at Baylor, first in the generous bequest of Virginia Beall Ball to create the endowment for the festival in honor of her parents and in the long-standing support for poetry at Baylor,” Ford said. “Now after three decades, the festival is as much a Baylor tradition as Dr Pepper Hour and the Baylor Line. Not only do we have an impressive archive of the papers of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the beautiful Armstrong Browning Library, but we also celebrate living poets at Baylor, who are our generation’s creative voices.”

Attendees of the festival can expect to be exposed to a wide range of contemporary poetry styles and leave with a newfound appreciation for the art of poetry. 

“Hearing poetry helps audience members appreciate how sound informs the meanings of the words, how emotions can be communicated through language and how poets can use different forms for different effects,” Ford said. “When reading their poems, the poets often talk about why they write poetry and how specific poems were created, which gives students insight into the creative process and exposes them to an art form that they may have previously experienced only in books. It should be on every student’s Baylor bucket list.”

The festival also includes a Student Literary Contest and award ceremony, featuring Baylor students reading their award-winning original works in poetry and fiction. 

Schedule of Events 

Wednesday, April 3 

3:30 p.m. Student Literary Award Ceremony, Treasure Room, Armstrong Browning Library. The winners of the Student Literary Contest will be announced including six undergraduate and two graduate prizes. 

5:30 p.m. Poetry reading by Major Jackson. Bennett Auditorium of Draper Academic Building, 1420 S. Seventh St. Major Jackson, M.F.A, is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University and the author of six books, including Razzle Dazzle: New & Selected Poems (2023). 

Thursday, April 4 

3:30 p.m. Panel discussion with all participants, Treasure Room, Armstrong Browning Library. 

5:30 p.m. The Virginia Beall Ball Lecture in Contemporary Poetry by Ruben Quesada in Room 101 of Carroll Science Hall. Ruben Quesada, M.F.A, Ph.D., is a professor of literature and creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago, author of Brutal Companion (2024) which won the 2023 Editor’s Choice in the Barrow Street Poetry Book Prize.

Friday, April 5 

11:15 a.m. Poetry reading by Allison Benis White, Treasure Room, Armstrong Browning Library. Allison White, M.F.A., is an associate professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside and the author of multiple books including Please Bury Me in This (2017) which won the Rilke Prize and a Foreword INDIES Book of the Year. 

3:30 p.m. Poetry reading by Rebecca Gayle Howell, Treasure Room, Armstrong Browning Library. Rebecca Gayle Howell M.F.A., Ph.D., serves as an assistant professor in the Program in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas and is the author of two award-winning novels-in-verse including American Purgatory (2017) and Redner (2013). 

5:30 p.m. Poetry reading by Tracy K. Smith, Bennett Auditorium of Draper Academic Building, 1420 S. Seventh St. Tracy K. Smith, M.F.A., is a professor of English and African American Studies and the Susan S. And Kenneth L. Wallace Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University. Smith is a distinguished author of multiple collections of poems including Such Color: New and Selected Poems (2021).

The festival is supported by the John A. and DeLouise McClelland Beall Endowed Fund, established in 1994 by Mrs. Virginia Beall Ball of Muncie, Indiana to honor her parents and encourage the writing, appreciation and celebration of poetry. Ball graduated from Baylor in 1940. 

The festival is free and open to the public. For more information, visit the Beall Poetry Festival website


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments in the sciences, humanities, fine arts and social sciences, as well as 11 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. The College’s undergraduate Unified Core Curriculum, which routinely receives top grades in national assessments, emphasizes a liberal education characterized by critical thinking, communication, civic engagement and Christian commitment. Arts & Sciences faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit the College of Arts & Sciences website.