Any poet will tell you that the only thing more rare than meaningful recognition is a meaningful payday. For two outstanding poets each year, the Kingsley and Kate Tufts awards represent both.
The Tufts poetry awards – based at Claremont Graduate University – are not only two of the most prestigious prizes a contemporary poet can receive, they also come with hefty purses: $100,000 for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and $10,000 for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. This makes the Kingsley Tufts award the world’s largest monetary prize for a single collection of poetry. And for most poets who have just published their first collection of verse, $10,000 is a pretty good haul.
This year, Tom Sleigh received the Kingsley Tufts award for his latest poetry collection, Space Walk. Janice Harrington was selected as the winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for her Even the Hollow My Body Made is Gone.
Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
Space Walk is Sleigh’s seventh book of poetry, though certainly not his first to be met with high praise. His first collection of poems, After One, won the Houghton Mifflin New Poetry Series Prize. In 1990, his collection Walking was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a finalist for the Lamont Poetry Prize. The Dreamhouse, published in 1999, was a selection of the Academy of American Poets Poetry Book Club and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. His previous collection, 2003’s Far Side of the Earth, was named an Honor Book by the Massachusetts Society of the Book.
Despite this acclaim, Sleigh still seems to be evolving as a poet, as evidenced by Space Walk. Publisher’s Weekly’s review stated that Space Walk contained Sleigh’s “saddest and most humane” verse yet, and the literary journal Ploughshares remarked that the poems showed “a writer pushing into greatness.”
This evolution is what made Sleigh an ideal candidate for the Kingsley Tufts award. Like all Kingsley Tufts recipients, Sleigh is an accomplished mid-career poet whose full potential is yet to be actualized.
Unlike many literary awards, which are coronations for a successful career or body of work, the Kingsley Tufts award was created to both honor the poet and provide the resources that allow artists to continue working towards the pinnacle of their craft.
“Because the award comes to you at mid-career, and is supposed to be a stepping stone and not a tombstone, it nerves you up to try to write up to the mark already set by the previous winners,” said Sleigh.
Kate Tufts – widow of Kinsley Tufts, and creator of the award – had said she wanted to create a prize “that would enable a poet to work on his or her craft for awhile without paying bills.”
“It is a tall order honoring the vision that Kate Tufts set out for us . . . to sustain a poet who is laboring in the difficult middle between first flower and final bloom,” said CGU Associate Professor Patricia Easton, who is the former director of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Awards. “Yet, somehow, the judges have managed to select truly exceptional poets year after year, poets who have gone on to write even greater volumes of poetry.”
With the first Tufts award being given out 15 years ago, past recipients have utilized the prize to further their contributions to poetry, both in terms of literary output and outreach, thereby demonstrating the award’s effectiveness.
“Now that 14 years have passed, what seems most important is what the award has helped me to do for poetry,” said Susan Mitchell, who won the 1993 Kingsley