Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Brigit Pegeen Kelly is regarded as one of America’s most astonishing original contemporary poets. She was an English Professor at the University of Illinois and spent most of her adult life as a teacher here. 

Brigit Pegeen Kelly was born in 1951 in Palo Alto, California and grew up in Southern Indiana. Moving to central Illinois as an adult, Brigit Pegeen Kelly devoted much of her life as an extraordinary award-winning poet and an English Professor at the University of Illinois. An extremely private person, little is known about her personal life. Brigit Pegeen Kelly passed away on October 14, 2016, in Urbana, Illinois. 

Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Although Brigit Pegeen Kelly was a private person, she had a profound impact on her students at the University of Illinois. There are several blogs written by students online that show how she inspired them to follow their dreams of becoming writers. When describing Professor Kelly, one student said, “She was not one for showy demonstration of emotion. But her love—and that is what it is, in the end, what every dedicated teacher gives her students—was as enormous, complex, and humble as a prairie.”

 Many also described how remarkable her work was and how she was so influential in poetry. Her poems were often used in college courses and won many awards. People often vividly remembered reading her poems and the emotions her poems would invoke in them. Her use of creative repetition, contrasts, and metaphors helped lead to these emotions and lasting impacts. 

Her first collection of poems entitled “To The Place of Trumpets” was published in 1987 and was selected by renowned poet James Merrill to be published in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Her poem “Song” won the 1994 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. In 2004, Brigit Pegeen Kelly published her third collection named “The Orchard” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry. 

In regards to her work, poet Stephen Dobyns said, “Brigit Pegeen Kelly is one of the very best poets now writing in the United States. In fact, there is no one who is any better. Not only are her poems brilliantly made, but they also give great pleasure. Rarely are those two qualities seen together in one poet.” 

Brigit Pegeen Kelly was also the award winner of the 2008 Academy of American Poets Fellowship. Other prominent fellowships she won included the Whiting Writers Award, as well as fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois State Council on the Arts, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts and more. Her poems have also appeared in several volumes of The Best American Poetry publication. 

Professor Brigit Pegeen Kelly taught at the University of California at Irvine, Purdue University, Warren Wilson College, and spent most of her time teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also participated in many writers’ conferences in the United States and Ireland throughout the years. Professor Kelly was awarded the 2002 University of Illinois humanities and campus awards for Excellence in Teaching.

During her time at Illinois, Professor Kelly was active in the planning of the English Department’s successful proposal to create a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She was the senior poetry editor for the University of Illinois’  Ninth Letter magazine that is devoted to literature and the arts.  Professor Kelly also had a love for the theater and revived Illinois’ play writing course. 


-English building. Where the English Department is located.




Academy of American Poets. (n.d.). Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Retrieved from  

Inside Illinois. (2008, Sept 18). Kelly honored with Academy of American Poets fellowship. Retrieved from

Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Retrieved from

Wikipedia contributors. (2020, March 5). Brigit Pegeen Kelly. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved  from

Contributors: Maggie McNaughton