Peggy Sue Caudle Vining (1929–2017)
Peggy Sue Caudle Vining was appointed Poet Laureate of Arkansas in 2003 by Governor Mike Huckabee. She was the sixth poet laureate since the creation of the position by concurrent resolutions of both houses of the Arkansas legislature in 1923.
Peggy Sue Caudle, the oldest of three daughters, was born on March 4, 1929, in Greenfield, Tennessee, to Clayton R. Caudle, a salesman and later owner of a farm equipment company, and Winnie May Moore, a schoolteacher prior to their marriage. Caudle’s father was a deacon at the Greenfield Baptist Church, and she learned hymns and Bible verses at an early age.
Caudle left home to attend college at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1946. She earned her elementary certificate in 1948. The Caudle family moved to Eudora (Chicot County) in the summer of 1947, where her father managed a farm equipment company, which he later purchased. In the fall of 1948, the Chicot County School System hired Caudle to teach a combined second- and third-grade class at the Chicot County Wing School. The majority of her students were migrant laborers whose families followed the picking seasons of the Delta crops.
In the spring of 1948, Caudle met Donald D. (Don) Vining, a U.S. Navy veteran returning from World War II. They were married on December 19, 1948, and went on to have five children. Vining worked occasionally as a substitute teacher after her first daughter was born.
In 1952, the Vinings moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Don had taken a job as dispatcher for a gas company. Finding the city was not to their liking, they returned to Arkansas in 1953 and purchased a half-interest in an equipment company with Vining’s father in Monticello (Drew County). In 1955, they moved to Nashville (Howard County) and bought a Western Auto store. In 1958, they sold the store and moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where Don had taken a job as a traveling salesman for the Armstrong Rubber Company.
In 1963, Vining joined the Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas (PRA) and began her publishing career. Her early poems appeared in the 1963 Poets’ Roundtable anthology and in the poetry columns of various central Arkansas newspapers.
In 1964, Vining began teaching at University Kindergarten and Preschool, a private school housed in the Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church. She also attended night classes at what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) in order to complete her BSE degree in early childhood education. In 1969, after completing her degree, she became deputy director of the school. Upon receiving her MSE degree in early childhood education in 1981, she became director of the school. Vining continued in this capacity until 1993, when the center was closed.
Retirement allowed Vining to devote more time to writing and volunteer work. She directed two writers’ conferences—the Ozark Creative Writers, Inc., Conference and the Arkansas Writers’ Conference—for twelve years and two years, respectively, and served on the board of directors for each organization. She served as the president of the PRA for three separate terms. She was also president of the Arkansas Pen Women and Arkansas Songwriters Association and a member of the Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas (FWCA).
In 1981, Vining won the Sybil Nash Abrams Award for her seven-sonnet sequence poem, “Arkansas, The Wonder State.” She later revised and renamed the poem “Arkansas, The Natural State.” In 1982, Vining was named Arkansas Mother of the Year by the American Mothers, Inc. (AMI). She served as Arkansas state president of AMI for fifteen years. She was also presented with a Point of Light Award from President George H. W. Bush for her service with Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI).
In 2003, Vining was named Poet Laureate of Arkansas, although she did not learn of her selection until after it had been finalized. Before that year, poets laureate had been chosen only after the death of the preceding poet laureate, although no state law required such a stipulation. The confusion resulting from the selection caused great concern. After hearing of the change in procedure, the sitting poet laureate, Verna Lee Linxwiler Hinegardner, friend and mentor of Vining, graciously vacated the position.
In early 2008, Vining received a citation from the state legislature for her poem, “Arkansas, The Natural State.” In May 2008, Vining received a lifetime achievement award from the Governor’s Arts Awards Council, which is part of the Arkansas Arts Council.
Vining’s poetry has been published in many of the PRA anthologies as well as in anthologies of poetry organizations of other states. She died on November 26, 2017.
For additional information:
Arkansas Poet Laureate Website. http://www.arkansaspoetlaureate.com (accessed March 16, 2022).
Munck, Casey. “Exchange of Laureates Bewilders Poets’ Circle.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 17, 2003, pp. 1B, 6B.
Norton, Ingrid. “Spread across the State, Poets Gather to Find a Sense of Self.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 12, 2007, pp. 1E, 2E.
Obituary of Peggy Sue Caudle Vining. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 27, 2017, p. 2B.
Peggy Sue Caudle Vining Interviews. Johnnie Tribble Shepard Archives and Genealogical Research Center. Emma Waters Summar Library. Union University, Jackson, Tennessee.
North Little Rock, Arkansas
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A political agenda led to Verna Lee Hinegardner being removed from her position as Poet Laureate with no indication of why or when this was to occur. It is a travesty the way that then Governor Huckabee took it upon himself to change a tradition that dated back to the beginning: a poet laureate held the position until his or her death. Governor Huckabee allowed political influence to make the change to the position as opposed to following tradition.