Jo Garot McDougall (1935–)

Jo Garot McDougall is a poet of the Arkansas Delta. Her work is noted for its sparseness and evocation of small-town life. Her poems are subtle portraits of the lives of rural families, farmers, housewives, and the struggles and tragedies they face. She has won many prizes for her work, which has been published in books, literary journals, and anthologies. In 2018, she was named Poet Laureate of Arkansas, serving in that role until 2022.

Jo Garot was born on December 15, 1935, and raised near DeWitt (Arkansas County). Her father, Leon Joseph Garot, was a rice farmer. Her mother, Ruth Maurine Merritt Garot, was a secondary education teacher. She has one sister, Nancy.

Garot grew up on a rice farm and received a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). She married Charles McDougall, a rice farmer, and lived near Stuttgart (Arkansas County) for twenty years. They had a son, Charles William “Duke” McDougall III; their daughter, Charla Jo Stone, died in 1999.

Although she had published poetry in magazines, McDougall returned to UA in 1980 to pursue an MFA in creative writing. She studied with Jim Whitehead and Miller Williams, the latter of whom, she said, helped her to “cut the fat out” of her work. She graduated in 1985.

In 1986, McDougall began a year of teaching at Northeast Louisiana University (now the University of Louisiana at Monroe), and, from 1987 to 1998, she taught at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, where she co-directed the university’s creative writing program and directed the Distinguished Visiting Writing Series. McDougall also taught at Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County) and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). She took an emergency leave of absence because of family illness and retired from teaching in 1998. She lived with her husband (then working as a commercial real estate appraiser) in Leawood, Kansas, for many years. The couple then moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County).

McDougall has published six poetry collections: The Woman in the Next Booth (1987), Towns Facing Railroads (1991), From Darkening Porches (1996), Dirt (2001), Satisfied with Havoc (2004), and The Undiscovered Room (2016). She also published a chapbook titled Women Who Marry Houses (1983). The University of Arkansas Press published a compilation of McDougall’s poetry, In the Home of the Famous Dead: Collected Poems, in 2015.

McDougall has been awarded a fellowship from the Arkansas Arts Council and received the Porter Prize in 2000. She has received several fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and  awards from the DeWitt Wallace/Reader’s Digest Foundation and the Academy of American Poets. She is an honorary chancellor of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, a member of the Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas, and a former board member of the Writers Place of Kansas City, Missouri. Her work has been published in many journals and newspapers, including Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies, The Kenyon Review, The Hudson Review, The Georgia Review, North American ReviewI-70 Review, New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, the Arkansas Times, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and in several anthologies including Good Poems for Hard Times, edited by Garrison Keillor. She was inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame in 2006.

A short film based on McDougall’s poetry, Emerson County Shaping Dream, directed by Don Maxwell, was released in 2001. Towns Facing Railroads, a stage presentation adapted from McDougall’s work, premiered at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre in 2006. A Very Fine House, an exhibit featuring prints by Anne deVere and text by McDougall, opened at the Abrons Art Center in New York in 2005. An arrangement was created by composer Steven Ebel using poems from Towns Facing Railroads in 2005. A song cycle from Dirt was adapted for a wind ensemble by composer Ty Emerson and premiered at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore in 2007. In 2011, she published her memoir, Daddy’s Money: A Memoir of Farm and Family. In 2019, she was presented with the Porter Fund’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The following year, she was finally awarded a Pushcart Prize, after approximately thirty years of being nominated for it, for her poem “Rivers.”

For additional information:
Elam, Angela. Interview with Jo McDougall. New Letters. (accessed April 22, 2022).

Hooper, Monica, and Jennifer Stewart. “I’m Always Looking at Fields: An Interview with Jo McDougall.” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 36 (August 2005): 124–132.

Jo McDougall. (accessed April 22, 2022).

McDougall, Jo. Daddy’s Money: A Memoir of Farm and Family. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011.

Middleton, Billy. “Landscape, Determinism, and Nostalgia in Jo McDougall’s Arkansas Delta Poetry.” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 50 (April 2019): 8–13.

Trieschman, Werner. “Jo Garot McDougall.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 19, 2019, pp. 1D, 5D.

———. “Jo McDougall on Arkansas Youth Poetry Day, Working During the Wee Hours and Why Eliminating Arts in School Is ‘Courting Shallow Thinking.’” Arkansas Times, April 5, 2021. (accessed April 22, 2022).

C. L. Bledsoe
Ghoti Magazine


    I find McDougall to be a world-class poet. I’m a young poet and translator from Bangladesh and wish to translate her work in my native language, Bengali, for our readers. I wish her a noble future.

    Rahman Henry