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May 14, 1996

Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry To Be Awarded for the Most Distinguished Book of Poetry

The 1996 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry of the Library of Congress will be presented in October 1996 for the best book of poetry published by a living United States author during the preceding two years (i.e., during 1994 or 1995). The first of these biennial prizes, presented in even-numbered years, was awarded to James Merrill in 1990 for his collection The Inner Room; the second, in 1992, was shared by Louise Gl?ck and Mark Strand. The 1994 Bobbitt Prize was awarded to A. R. Ammons for his collection Garbage. The $10,000 prize is given by the family of the late Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory. She was Lyndon B. Johnson's sister and, while a graduate student in Washington during the 1930s, was an employee of the Library of Congress, where she met co-worker and college student O. P. Bobbitt, whom she later married. Their son, Philip C. Bobbitt, relates,

After my mother's death, I discovered a cache of old index cards apparently used as surreptitious notes under the eyes of a superintendent who supposed perhaps that mother was typing Dewey decimals. The long campaign by which my father moved, successively, from conspiratorial co-worker to confidant to suitor, was partly played out in the indexing department of the Library. Sometime after my mother's death, my father and I decided to endow a memorial in her honor and, owing to the history I have described, the Library of Congress was suggested as a possible recipient of this memoriam.

The Bobbitt Prize, a milestone in the Library's history, was the first award given by the Library since the controversy over the Library's awarding of the 1948 Bollingen Prize to Ezra Pound for his Pisan Cantos. The Joint Congressional Committee on the Library of Congress in 1949 adopted a policy prohibiting the Library thenceforth from granting any more awards or prizes. On April 15, 1988, however, the Joint Committee on the Library, under the chairmanship and vice-chairmanship, respectively, of Senator Claiborne Pell and Representative Frank Annunzio, approved Librarian of Congress James H. Billington's petition for the resumption of "the awarding of prizes by the Library of Congress in recognition of exceptionally meritorious achievements in the life of the mind, including works in biography, history, fiction, poetry, and drama, as requested by the Librarian." The Bobbitt Prize was the first literary prize to be offered and administered by the Library since this congressional approval took effect.

A four-person committee to select the three-person Bobbitt Prize jury for the 1996 award will convene at the Library this month, and will be made up of the Librarian of Congress, the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a publisher appointed by the Academy of American Poets, and a literary critic appointed by the Bobbitt family. The prize jury will convene by mid-September.

Nominations for the prize may be submitted by publishers only. A large mailing of announcements, along with rules and application forms, will go out to publishers from the Library's Poetry and Literature Center. Entries should be accompanied by the entry form, four copies of the nominated book, a $25 contribution made payable to the "Poetry and Literature Fund" of the Library of Congress, and a stamped return postcard so that the Library may acknowledge receipt, and should be postmarked no later than July 15, 1996. Publishers are urged to be selective in their nominations.

For purposes of the prize a book is precisely defined, as follows: a collection of printed leaves, that have been folded, secured by adhesive along the binding edge in a perfect binding, i.e., no saddle-stitched or stapled binding, bound and published in a standard edition of not less than 1,000 copies. A first book or book composed of new work will qualify; collected and selected works will qualify only if they include at least 30 new poems previously unpublished in book form.

Announcement of the recipient of the award will be made by the Library in early October 1996, by news releases to major newspapers and literary magazines. Also in October, the award will be made by the Librarian at an invitational reception, to be followed by a public reading, by the author, from the book chosen for the award.

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PR 96-71
ISSN 0731-3527

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