Former Kentucky poet laureate Jane Gentry Vance, 73, a longtime University of Kentucky professor who penned a large body of poetry, as well as critical essays and book reviews, died Thursday at Taylor Manor Nursing Home in Versailles after battling cancer.
Vance spent 40 years as a professor at UK, where she taught honors courses and creative writing. She won the UK Alumni Association's Great Teacher Award in 1986 and was inducted into the UK College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame after her retirement last year.
"As a poet, Jane wrote with insight and grace of family, of the intricacies of our emotions, and of the ironies of everyday life," Jeff Clymer, chairman of the English Department, and Mark Kornbluh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in a letter to the university. "Her moving and elliptical poetry gave us new ways to think about life's complexities, often with a dash of ironic humor.
"As a colleague, Jane used her sympathy and shrewdness for good. Generous and big-hearted, she was both compassionate and possessed of a clear-eyed sense of justice."
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University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said in a statement that Vance was "a uniquely Kentucky voice."
"As I talk with her colleagues around the campus, they are quick to note that she was among that pantheon of Kentucky writers, who remind us of the artistry born of deep connections to a special place," he said.
Vance's family has lived in the area since Boonesboro was settled, and her upbringing on a farm in Athens heavily influenced her work, which included two collections, Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig, published in 2006, and A Garden in Kentucky, published in 1995.
Former Gov. Ernie Fletcher named her poet laureate for 2007 and 2008.
Gurney Norman, who followed Vance as poet laureate in 2009 and 2010, said her "natural qualities of generosity, gracefulness, sense of humor, artistic and intellectual brilliance, loyalty to her friends and her quiet personal power made her a singular person.
"I always felt honored just to be her friend," he said. "Jane was a sophisticated, cosmopolitan person but always remained a very local Kentuckian too."
Vance earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Hollins College, a master's from Brandeis University and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina.
She is survived by two daughters, Lucy Gentry Vance Seligson of South Orange, N.J., and Susannah Clayton Vance Gopalan of Washington, D.C.
Visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home, 463 East Main Street, Lexington.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. John's Episcopal Church, 210 North Main Street, Versailles. Visitation will be from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Friday at the church.