Two Nights of Poetry With This Year’s Tufts Winners
Does poetry matter in the 21st century?
The question never goes away; every year media outlets large and small debate the question of poetry’s place (and relevance) in a world in which social media platforms usually chop and strip down language to its basic elements.
Each year the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards at Claremont Graduate University respond with a resounding (and unequivocal) answer: Yes, poetry still does matter.
This month—as the entire country celebrates poetry month—the university community gathered to celebrate the 2019 winners, Dawn Lundy Martin and Diana Khoi Nguyen, at two events held on consecutive nights at the home of University President Len Jessup and First Lady Kristi Staab and at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, respectively.
And what was the takeaway?
The written word is still in very good hands.
“It was a special love for poetry, and a realization that serious and gifted writers need help in order to keep going, that prompted the establishment of these awards,” Provost Patricia Easton told an audience of university community members and friends at the reception and poetry reading held on the second night at the Huntington.
The awards, whose history can be read here on the awards pages, honor the work of a mid-career poet with $100,000 and an emerging poet’s early work with $10,000.
A professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Martin was selected for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for her book Good Stock Strange Blood, which Interim Tufts Director Don Share described as a formidable, powerful collection that the judges honored for its “uncompromising poetics of resistance and exactitude.”
Martin is the 27th poet to receive the award, whose past winners include B.H. Fairchild, Angie Estes, Henri Cole, Thomas Lux, Linda Gregerson, Ross Gay, Patricia Smith, and this year’s finalist judging chair Timothy Donnelly (who received the award in 2012 for The Cloud Corporation).
A multimedia artist and doctoral candidate at the University of Denver, Nguyen won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for Ghost Of, a book that grew from the suicide of her brother and the power that his painful absence has exerted on her family.
The news media paid robust attention, both regionally and nationally, to the awards and this year’s recipients.
Martin and Nguyen were announced in the pages of the Southern California News Group’s regional chain of 15 newspapers as well as in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one of Martin’s hometown papers.
The Los Angeles Times profiled the winners and featured commentary by the awards’ coordinator, Genevieve Kaplan, who explained that the annual prizes are unique in the poetry world “in that they are very large monetary prizes for single books of poetry.”
In the weekly Book Club newsletter published by the Washington Post, critic Ron Charles hailed the selection of Martin for the Kingsley Tufts Award and praised her work, saying that “identity is, perhaps, the most fascinating subject of Martin’s poetry and one she turns over in all kinds of paradoxical ways.”
Related events: past and upcoming
This month’s celebration of the awards also included a reading by two of the Tufts judges, acclaimed poets and writers Luis Rodriguez and Khadijah Queen. Rodriguez and Queen read from their work as part of an SAH Humanities Forum held in the university’s Board of Trustees Room.
As a part of her award, Martin will return to campus in the fall for a weeklong poetry residency, featuring classroom visits, public readings, and related activities. More on that coming soon. Register here for regular email updates.
And don’t forget to follow the university’s new podcast series, Poets at Work. The first installment features a discussion with the editors of Foothill Poetry, Emily Schuck and Brock Rustin.