Wright hails from Pickwick Dam, Tennessee. His family eventually settled in Kingsport where Wright says he "really grew up," according to the Tennessee Literary Project at MTSU.
For years, Wright was a professor at the University of Virginia.
He began writing poetry while he was stationed in Italy with the U.S. Army, inspired by the work of Ezra Pound.
In announcing the selection, Librarian of Congress James Billington says Wright is a master of the "meditative, image-driven lyric."
The 79-year-old Wright succeeds another Southern poet, Natasha Trethewey, as poet laureate. Trethewey toured the country for a regular PBS feature called "Where Poetry Lives."
Wright has written 24 collections of poetry. His work has won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award and the Bollingen Prize.