John Prine Named Illinois' First Honorary Poet Laureate

The late John Prine has been named the first honorary poet laureate of the state of Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday, nearly three months after the singer-songwriter’s death from complications related to COVID-19.

“He leaves behind an unparalleled musical legacy and was beloved by family and millions of fans who hope that in Heaven he finds Paradise waitin’ just as he longed for,” Pritzker said of the posthumous honor, quoting Prine’s “Paradise.”

Prine is the first recipient of the posthumous honorary designation, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The singer was born in Maywood, Illinois, and was a staple of the Chicago folk scene (where fellow Windy City native Roger Ebert first discovered Prine) and served as a mail carrier in the region before moving to Nashville in the early Eighties.

“I have no doubt that John would be proud and delighted to receive this recognition from his home state of Illinois,” Prine’s widow Fiona Whelan Prine said of the honor in a statement. “Although he had moved to Nashville in the early Eighties, he continued to visit Chicago, and Maywood in particular, to spend time with his family. John continued to follow Chicago sports teams and had never found a hot dog, pizza or Italian beef sandwich to rival the originals. Watching John, as I did many times, play to an Illinois audience was always thrilling. A home boy delighting in the love and approval of his loyal fans — some of them family, long-time friends, old school buddies and neighbors.”

She continued, “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.”

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