Maggi from Bell Buckle: Poet laureate surprised for 80th birthday
Maggi Vaughn thought she was going to Bell Buckle Banquet Hall Monday night to make a few brief remarks to a book club visiting from Murfreesboro. The Tennessee Poet Laureate planned to read one of her poems.
When she arrived, however, there was no book club to be found. Instead, the hall was full of friends, neighbors and well-wishers for a surprise 80th birthday party.
"I can't believe this," said Vaughn. "Lord, have mercy."
When you leave Maggi Vaughn speechless, you've accomplished something.
Margaret Britton Vaughn, one of only two people to ever hold the title of Tennessee Poet Laureate, has served since 1995. Her current five-year term runs until 2020. She was appointed after the death of the previous poet laureate, Richard M. "Pek" Gunn. The poet, songwriter and author wrote the official poem for Tennessee's bicentennial celebration in 1996, and poems for other occasions as well, such as the 1999 and 2003 gubernatorial inaugurations and the release of the U.S. quarter honoring Tennessee. Her poem about the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force was entered into the Congressional Record.
As a songwriter, she wrote songs for Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and Charlie Louvin, among others.
Her best-known collection of poetry is probably 1994's "The Light In The Kitchen Window."
In 2011, she and a small group of poets visited the late Maya Angelou at Angelou's home in North Carolina. Angelou was fascinated by the name of Vaughn's adopted home town and referred to Vaughn as "Bell Buckle" throughout the day: "Well, Bell Buckle, what do you think?"
Vaughn left Angelou copies of two of her books, and Angelou wrote her a letter back soon thereafter. "I have enjoyed 'The Other Sun of God' and 'When Grownups Play Children's Games,'" Angelou wrote. "As I conclude each poem with a little remorse, I thought, 'I was going to write that poem and she not only beat me to it, she captured its meaning and shared it with us all.'"
Prior to the meeting, Vaughn had written a poem about Angelou which was included in "The Light In The Kitchen Window."
"Maya, T.V. brought you into / My living room last night. / Before the evening was over / You returned the same invite...." the poem begins.
Vaughn is a cancer survivor, who beat two different cancers in the space of a year and a half -- kidney cancer in 2012, and then breast cancer.
Vaughn is a native of Murfreesboro. Her father, a firefighter, was killed in the line of duty when Vaughn was just nine months old. Her mother remarried and the family moved to Gulfport, Mississippi, where Vaughn grew up. Vaughn became the first woman to work in sales for the Gulfport Daily Herald. She returned to her native state to attend Middle Tennessee State University. She moved to Nashville after college, but later settled in Bell Buckle, where she became one of the town's most beloved citizens, as evidenced by the turnout Monday night.