60, state poet laureate
Associated PressGREENVILLE, S.C. - Bennie Lee Sinclair, South Carolina's poet laureate who wrote a poem for Gov. Jim Hodges' inauguration in 1999, died Monday at her home in Greenville County. She was 61.
"For the last few weeks, she had been in a great deal of pain," said her husband, Don Lewis, who was with his wife of nearly 43 years at their home when she died of an apparent heart attack.
Ms. Sinclair, who suffered from diabetes, had several eye operations and went through a kidney transplant in 1993, once quipped that her health problems left her "glued together like a bionic woman."
Her work included a novel, The Lynching; a collection of short fiction, Appalachian Trilogy; and four collections of verse, Little Chicago Suite; The Arrowhead Scholar; The Endangered: New and Selected Poems and Lord of Springs, which was nominated for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for verse.
Ms. Sinclair was named poet laureate in 1976 by then-Gov. Richard Riley, now U.S. secretary of education, and wrote poems for formal state functions. Last year when a gust of wind scattered the pages of her poem for Mr. Hodges' inauguration, she recited the poem from memory.
Earlier this year, Mr. Riley praised Ms. Sinclair as a "perceptive soul who provides insight into our humanity ... and believes in the power of education for all children."
Furman University President Dr. David Shi, who presented Mr. Lewis with an honorary doctor of literature degree, said Ms. Sinclair was an inspiration who had brought honor and recognition to her alma mater.
"Throughout her battle with health problems that would have debilitated most people, she has demonstrated remarkable courage and a genuine appreciation for the value of life and all that it entails," Dr. Shi said.
In a January interview, Ms. Sinclair said when she first attempted writing, she "wrote terrible poems" that she threw away. But life experiences gave her writings depth.
The Arrowhead Scholar, written as an elegy in memory of her brother, earned her the Stephen Vincent Benet Award in 1970.
In the last months of her life, Ms. Sinclair's failing eyesight left her unable to do much writing, her husband said.
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