Upon his death from COVID-19 in April, legendary singer-songwriter John Prine was widely remembered as a masterful lyricist. In a remembrance at this site, Stephen Deusner wrote that Prine “seemed to emerge as a fully formed songwriter, one whose gift for wordplay and character were already intact by the time he picked his first notes.” Although he later became a Nashville staple, Prine was born in Maywood, Illinois, grew up in the Prairie State, and played his earliest shows in the Chicago folk scene; many already considered him one of the state’s greatest poets, and now Illinois has made it official.
As ABC 7 Chicago reports, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has named Prine the first Honorary Poet Laureate in Illinois history. The report quotes Prine’s widow, Fiona Whelan Prine: “I have no doubt that John would be proud and delighted to receive this recognition from his home state of Illinois. John had great respect for writers of all kinds. He regarded poets as being among those whose work carried weight, relevance and elevated craft. It is such an honor for me, our sons and the entire Prine family to acknowledge that our beloved John will be named an Honorary Poet Laureate of the State of Illinois. Thank you, Governor Pritzker, for this wonderful recognition.”
Pritzker announced the honor while announcing the formation of the 2020 Illinois Poet Laureate Search Committee. The state has not had a Poet Laureate since 2017. They probably should have chosen Prine for the role then!