Kay Ryan, the 16th Poet Laureate of the United States (2008-2010) received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on April 18. The prize is for her latest book “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems” (Grove Press, 2010), described as “a body of work spanning 45 years, witty, rebellious and yet tender, a treasure trove of an iconoclastic and joyful mind.”
Ryan was born in 1945 in San Jose, Calif., and grew up in the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. She received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles. Ryan lives in Marin County, where she has taught remedial English at the College of Marin for more than 30 years.
In addition to her most recent award-winning volume, Ryan has written six books of poetry, plus a limited edition artist’s book, along with a number of essays. Her books are: “Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends” (1983), “Strangely Marked Metal” (Copper Beech, 1985), “Flamingo Watching” (Copper Beech, 1994), “Elephant Rocks” (Grove Press, 1996), “Say Uncle” (Grove Press, 2000), “Believe It or Not!” (2002, Jungle Garden Press, edition of 125 copies) and “The Niagara River” (Grove Press, 2005).
Her awards include the Gold Medal for poetry, 2005, from the San Francisco Commonwealth Club; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from The Poetry Foundation in 2004; a Guggenheim fellowship the same year; a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship as well as the Maurice English Poetry Award in 2001; the Union League Poetry Prize in 2000; and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award in 1995. She has won four Pushcart Prizes and has been selected four different years for the annual volumes of the Best American Poetry. Her poems have been widely reprinted and internationally anthologized. Since 2006, she has been a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
During her tenure as Poet Laureate, Ryan hosted the Library’s 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 literary seasons during which she read from her work and introduced guest poets. She also appeared at the National Book Festival in 2003, 2008 and 2009 (www.loc.gov/bookfest/author/Kay_Ryan). In 2009, she established a poetry-writing contest for community-college students called “Poetry for the Mind’s Joy” (www.loc.gov/poetry/mindsjoy/).
During a one-hour videoconference on April 1, 2010, Ryan interacted with selected community college students, revealing tips about writing poetry and aspects of her writing process. Sponsored by the Library, the event highlighted Community College Poetry Day across the country.