Margaret Louise Ward was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 28, 1923, to Linda Heacock, a talented soprano, and James Alto Ward, a physician. Her maternal grandfather, J. D. Heacock, was also a medical doctor. Margaret Ward Morland graduated from Samford University in Birmingham—where she also taught during the 1940s—and earned her MA in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She met her future husband, J. Kenneth Morland (1916–2005), while he was earning his doctorate in a program that combined sociology and anthropology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following their marriage in 1949, the couple lived in South Carolina before moving to Lynchburg in 1953. (Her husband testified as an expert witness in the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, where he provided the academic foundation for the argument that racially segregated schools were inherently unequal.) The Morlands made repeated visits to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan from 1955 to 2002, and eventually had three daughters: Carol, Kathy, and Lyn. During the 1960s, Margaret Morland taught English at Lynchburg College.
Morland’s poems were first published in periodicals and anthologies in the 1970s. Her body of work, both published and unpublished, is collected in two volumes: It Happens Thus illustrates Morland’s wide range of poetic themes through such varied topics as love, the seductions of springtime, and musings on heaven. Her haiku—accompanied by Chinese ink sketches by Memphis-based artist and illustrator Billy Price Carroll—enhance transitions within the book. Gift of Jade emphasizes difficult political and family situations through concise poems written both as traditional sonnets and in forms of Morland’s own invention. The volume reveals occasional stormy passages as it underscores Morland’s lyricism, her extensive and distinctive use of metaphor, and her awareness of sound and rhythm.
American composers Henry Hallstrom (1906–1992; director of Randolph Macon Woman’s College—now Randolph College—Glee Club) and Edwin Earle Ferguson (1910–1999) began putting Morland’s words to choral music in the 1960s and 1970s. Other composers have also used her poetry as lyrics, and many of these collaborative works have been published as sheet music. When set to music, Morland’s poems become prayers expressing hope and universal love. Morland’s poems often address scientific and humanistic truths, and the theological concepts expressed in her work resonate across denominations. Her poems also have been choreographed for dance in New York City and Memphis, Tennessee.
In addition to being named Virginia’s Poet Laureate, Morland was awarded the National Lutheran Hymn Prize and the Birmingham-Southern College Cecil Hackney Literary Award. She received the Conrad Aiken Prize of the Poetry Society of Georgia, the Nancy Byrd Turner Prize of the Poetry Society of Virginia, and the Distinguished Alumna Award of Samford University. Two of her poems were selected by the Virginia Metrorail Public Arts Program and are etched into the work of a leading architectural glass artist’s rendering at the McLean, Virginia Metro station.
Morland held poetry workshops and readings across the United States, Europe, and Asia. While she was Poet Laureate of Virginia, she led poetry workshops in schools throughout the Commonwealth. She was involved with the Poetry Society of Virginia as a member of its advisory board. Morland died on September 8, 2022.