African American Poet Laureate, former TSU Professor Harriette Bias-Insignares, dies at 72

Dr. Harriette Bias- Insignares

Dr. Harriette Bias-Insignares

Dr. Harriette Bias- Insignares, a longtime professor at Tennessee State University and the first African American Poet Laureate/Ambassador of Letters for the State of Tennessee has died. She was 72 years old.

A graduate of Fisk University, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Bias-Insignares had been an educator for more than 40 years. She taught English as a second language, rhetoric and public address, theatre and journalism.

Bias-Insignares began her career teaching English and physical education in Bucaramanga, Colombia, from 1964-65. She later became the Spanish resource consultant for the Chicago Board of Education from 1966 until 1968, and the director of the Tutorial Center at the University of Wisconsin from 1970-72. From 1977 until 1980, Bias-Insignares was an assistant professor of Speech at the University of Tennessee in Nashville.

Dr. Bias-Insignares joined the faculty at Tennessee State University as an associate professor of communications, a position she held from 1981 until 2000. While at the university, she received the TSU Outstanding Teacher Award, the TSU Foundation Scholars Award, and the TSU National Broadcasting Society Journalism Teacher of the Year Award. Her other awards included the Consortium of Doctors Trailblazer Award, and the Society of Professional Journalists’ David L. Eshelman Award.

Bias-Insignares started writing poetry in earnest following the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Since 1977, she served the state of Tennessee as its Official State Poet and Arts Advocate under the title ‘Tennessee’s Ambassador of Letters.’ To honor her for her many years of service to the people of Tennessee through poetry, Bias-Insignares was named the first Poet Laureate of Nashville.

A native of Savannah, Georgia, Bias-Insignares was widely recognized as a poetess, storyteller, and oral interpreter. In her role as Tennessee’s state poet she wrote poetry honoring men and women like Vice President Al Gore, Colin Powell, and Eartha Kitt, as well as groups such as The National Urban League and the Negro Ensemble Company.

Her awards in poetry included the Society of Poets International Poet of Merit Medallion, the Phyllis Wheatley Poetry Award, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Award for contributions to American literature, and the Tennessee Governor’s Spotlight Award for Contributions to the Arts. In addition, Bias-Insignares was also recognized for the Desert Storm Poetry Memorial she created, the first poetry memorial honoring the military in the nation. For her efforts she received the Adjutant General’s Distinguished Patriot Medallion, for “singular sacrifice and commitment to sustaining the pride and patriotism of our armed forces.”