Retired UW-Fox professor inspires readers with her poetry

By Tori Schneider

Laurel Mills talks about her new book, Rumor of Hope, in the Aylward Gallery March 10.

Photo by Tori Schneider
Laurel Mills talks about her new book, Rumor of Hope,
in the Aylward Gallery March 10.

Rumor of Hope is a collection of poems Mills wrote about experiences she has had with her daughter, Beth.

“When I was writing these poems I had no idea about putting them together as a book. I wrote them almost out of desperation. And one of the greatest things I think about the arts, especially about writing, is that it gives you a way of sorting out things that are happening in the world, and it helps to make some order out of chaos.”

Beth is cognitively disabled and has behavioral issues, born with a rare genetic condition called 1p36 deletion.

“When Beth was about three years old, this was in the 1960s of course, the pediatrician told me to put her away, in those days meaning in an institution. ‘She’ll never amount of anything,’ [they said]. But we’re proud to say that 48 years later, she certainly has amounted to something, and she certainly has enriched a lot of lives, including mine.”

Mills described the book as having a “thread of hope” that runs through it.

“There’s always that little thread of hope, something that we can learn from it, or somehow we’re going to grow from it, and to not give up.”

Jan Porter attended the Scholars Series and had also heard Mills read other poetry at Harmony Café.

“I have a lot of respect for her work, but I really didn’t know much about her personal life and her daughter. How brave to not only write about this, but make it open to other people.”

Scott Emmert suggested to the Lecture and Fine Arts Committee that Mills be featured in the Scholars Series and introduced her at the event.

“I was very pleased when I saw that she had been selected to give a reading and I thought that it went very well, that she did a very nice job,” Emmert said.

Emmert describes Mills as an accomplished poet, a good reader, and said she was very instrumental with the Fox Cry Review.

Besides editing the Fox Cry Review, Mills worked at UW Fox Valley as a teacher for 20 years after being a student herself.

Mills tells young writers to be open to suggestions and to read and write a lot.

“It takes a while to learn that you have to learn to take constructive criticism, but I learned that by taking a lot of creative writing classes and journalism.”

Mills has won several awards including the Encircle Publications 2012 Chapbook Contest, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets 2013 Chapbook Contest, and the Wisconsin Library Association 2013 Outstanding Achievement Award.

You can order Mill’s book, Rumor of Hope, online at

The Scholar Series was started about 10 years ago.

“I think it enriches and when you’re a student your goals should be to learn as much as you can and be exposed to as much as you can and so by going to the Scholar Series you can learn about all these different things,” Mills said.

Scholars are chosen by the Lecture and Fine Arts Committee, chaired by Frank Zetzman.

Zetzman said students should attend the Scholar Series to broaden their interests.

“It’s another way to become educated without a formal class.”

There are six Scholars Series presentations each year, three per semester.