Press Contact: Craig D'Ooge, (202) 707-9189
October 1, 1996
1966 Bobbitt Poetry Prize Awarded to Kenneth Koch
The 1996 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry will be awarded to Kenneth Koch on Thursday evening, October 31 (not October 30 as was previously announced), at 8 p.m. in the Mumford Room, sixth floor, James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E. This year's prize, the fourth to be given, was awarded to Mr. Koch for his book One Train, published in 1994 by Alfred A. Knopf Inc. A public reception honoring Mr. Koch will follow his reading.
The biennial $10,000 prize, a privately funded poetry prize given on behalf of the nation, recognizes the most distinguished book of poetry written by an American and published during the preceding two years. The prize is donated by the family of the late Mrs. Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory, and established at the Library of Congress. She was President Lyndon B. Johnson's sister. While a graduate student in Washington, D.C., during the 1930s, Rebekah Johnson met college student O. P. Bobbitt when they both worked in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress. They married and returned to Texas.
Kenneth Koch lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University. In addition to One Train, Mr. Koch's collections of poetry include Seasons on Earth (1987), On the Edge (1986), Days and Nights (1982), The Burning Mystery of Anna in 1951 (1979), The Art of Love (1975), The Pleasures of Peace (1969), When the Sun Tries to Go On (1969), and Thank You and Other Poems (1962). His short plays, many of them produced off- and off-off-Broadway, are collected in One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays (1988) and A Change of Hearts (1973). He is also the author of a novel, The Red Robins (1975), and a collection of short stories, Hotel Lambosa (1993), as well as works on teaching children about poetry, including Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children (1973) and Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry (1970).
Koch earned his A.B. degree from Harvard University in 1948, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in 1953 and 1959 from Columbia University. His other awards and honors include the Award of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1987), the Fund for Poetry's Contribution to Poetry award (1992), and the Distinguished Work Award from the Merrill Foundation (1992). He has also been a Fulbright Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow.
The winner of the 1996 Bobbitt Prize was chosen by a three- member jury appointed in May by a selection committee composed of the Librarian of Congress, the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a publisher named by the Academy of American Poets, and a literary critic nominated by the Bobbitt family. The jury for this year's prize was Eavan Boland, Robert Creeley, and A. Walton Litz.
The jury described Kenneth Koch as "a man with a distinguished record and with a distinguished book," "a communal poet and a good citizen." His Bobbitt Prize-winning book, One Train, displays "a poignant wit" and is consistent in its tone, with a unity often sought but not always achieved by poets in their collected work.
The poetry and literature reading series at the Library of Congress is the oldest in the Washington area, and one of the oldest in the United States. This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s and has been almost exclusively supported since 1951 by a gift from the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who wanted to bring the enjoyment and appreciation of good literature to a larger audience.
The Poetry and Literature Center, which administers the series, is also the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late philanthropist Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 in 1985, as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series, plans other special literary events during the reading season, and usually introduces the programs.
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