Max Ellison

Max Ellison, a native of Bellaire, Michigan, wished to be remembered as "a poet who could get away from the colleges... and read to first and second graders." The beloved storyteller and writer recited poetry at over a thousand schools and 36 universities in 26 states.

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    Max Ellison was born in 1914 in Bellaire, Michigan. In his youth, he worked as a stable hand on horse farms in Kentucky. His strong ties to the bluegrass state would later allow him to speak at events such as the Kentucky Derby and surrounding races.

    Ellison wrote poetry in the folk tradition. He once said, “poetry is for the masses, not just intellectuals… look at me.” He published multiple collections and pieces, including “The Underbark,” “The Hat Poems,” “The Blue Bird is Blue,” and “The Happenstance.” His poetry was meant to reflect the struggles and emotions of the common man. He was famed for his weekly poetry readings in Frog Holler, Michigan, where people of all ages would travel even from out of state to hear him tell stories. This earned him the title of the “unofficial poet laureate of the state.”

    In 1969, Ellison was invited to read his poem “Michigan” at Governor William Miliken’s inauguration ceremony. He passed away in 1985 after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Ellison leaves behind a legacy of trailblazing advocacy for folk poetry and storytelling.

    Helen Bryant

    This profile was created in 2022 as part of the Song of America Fellowship Program, a project of the Classic Song Research Initiative between the Hampsong Foundation and the University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.

    Further Reading:

    -“Northern Michigan Bard Leaves Word After Death”. AP NEWS, 1985.




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