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September 28, 1998

Poet Laureate Grants Fellowships to Poets David Gewanter, Campbell McGrath and Heather McHugh

Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Robert Pinsky has granted $8,000 poetry fellowships to David Gewanter, Campbell McGrath and Heather McHugh. The awards are funded by the Witter Bynner Foundation and given under the auspices of the Library of Congress, the home of the Poet Laureate, who selects poets to receive the awards.

The fellowships are to be used to support the writing of poetry. Only two things are asked of the fellows: that they organize a local poetry reading in the spring of 1999 in their place of residence, and that they participate in a poetry reading at the Library of Congress sometime in the first half of October 1999.

The local readings will incorporate Mr. Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project, which calls for Americans from all walks of life to read poems by their favorite poets for a videotape and audiotape archives. Mr. Pinsky is selecting a broad cross section of Americans reading their favorite poems aloud as part of the Library's Bicentennial. In the year 2000, when the Library celebrates its 200th birthday, 200 video and 1,000 audio tapes of poetry reading will be added to the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature as one of the Library's birthday gifts to the nation.

"All three are poets I admire very much who also have the kind of energy and skill well suited to helping with the Favorite Poem Project," said Mr. Pinsky.

Mr. Gewanter teaches at Georgetown University in Washington. He was previously head preceptor of the expository writing program at Harvard University, where he also directed the writing programs in the Division of Continuing Education. He received his B.A. degree in intellectual history from the University of Michigan in 1980; his M.A. degree in 1986 and his Ph.D. degree in 1991, both in English, are from the University of California, Berkeley. His awards and honors include two from the Academy of American Poets, two Pushcart Prize nominations and a National Poetry Competition commendation. His first collection of poetry is In the Belly (1997).

"David Gewanter's irreverent, eloquent In the Belly is one of the most remarkable books in the University of Chicago Press's fine poetry series, and recently won Ploughshares magazine's Zacharis First Book Award. He helped us very much with the wonderful Favorite Poem reading at the Library last year, with readers ranging from a member of the U.S. Senate to the District of Columbia police force," said Mr. Pinsky.

Mr. McGrath was born in Chicago and grew up in Washington, D.C. He attended the University of Chicago and Columbia University, where he received a master of fine arts degree in 1988. Mr. McGrath's collections of poetry are Capitalism (1990), American Noise (1993), and Spring Comes to Chicago (1996). Among his awards and honors are the Pushcart Prize and the Academy of American Poets Prize. He has taught at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, and he now teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University.

Said Mr. Pinsky: "Campbell McGrath is a thoughtful, funny poet of American culture, inventive and startling while showing recognizable aspects of our country, alternating rapidly between satire and his own kind of patriotism. He is also a wonderful young teacher, deeply devoted to, and appreciated by, his community in Florida."

Ms. McHugh has been Professor of English and Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington (Seattle) for the past decade, and a visiting faculty member in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College (Asheville, N.C.) since its inception. She has translated the work of Jean Follain, and (with her husband, Niko Boris McHugh) collections of poems by Blaga Dimitrova and by Paul Celan. The most recent collection of her poetry is Hinge & Sign (1994).

"Heather McHugh is a dynamo of energy and imagination, in her poems and in person. Her sense of language as an adventure is contagious. I have read her poem "What He Thought" (from Hinge and Sign) at some of the Favorite Poem events I have attended around the country. It is a poem at once clear and profound, and offers an unforgettable definition of poetry," said Mr. Pinsky.

The funding source for the fellowships, the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, was incorporated in 1972 in New Mexico to provide grant support for programs in poetry through nonprofit organizations. Mr. Bynner was an influential early-20th century poet and translator of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, which he named The Way of Life According to Laotzu. He traveled with D.H. and Frieda Lawrence and proposed to Edna St. Vincent Millay (she accepted, but then they changed their minds). He worked at McClure's magazine, where he published A.E. Houseman for the first time in the United States and was one of O. Henry's early fans.

The Witter Bynner Foundation is giving the Library a total of $150,000 over five years; $25,000 for two or more poets each year to be chosen by the Poet Laureate in conjunction with the Library to encourage poets and poetry, and $5,000 annually for five years to assist with costs of the Poet Laureateship.

The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry position has existed since 1936, when the late philanthropist Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Archibald MacLeish, who was Librarian from 1939 to 1944, determined that the Consultantship in Poetry should be an annual appointment. 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 current Poet Laureate, Mr. Pinsky, is the award-winning translator of The Inferno of Dante and a creative writing professor at Boston University. In addition to making the Witter Bynner fellowship awards and serving as Artistic Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Favorite Poem Project, he suggests authors to read in the Library's literary series, plans other special events during the literary season, and usually introduces the programs.

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PR 98-158
ISSN 0731-3527

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