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1998 poetry Pulitzer honors Charles Wright, UI Writers' Workshop alum and former faculty

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The 1998 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, awarded April 14 in New York City, honored Charles Wright, a graduate and frequent visiting faculty member of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Prominent novelist Philip Roth, who has been a visiting faculty member in the Writers' Workshop, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

At the UI Wright was a student of Donald Justice, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 and is now retired in Iowa City. When Wright was a Writers' Workshop faculty member, one of his students was current workshop faculty member James Galvin. Wright, whose poetry is highly influenced by Ezra Pound, graduated from the workshop in 1963, and he now teaches at the University of Virginia, where he is the Souder Family Professor of Poetry.

Justice commented: "The prize should come as no surprise. Charles Wright is one of the true artists in poetry anywhere. A Wright poem is an expedition into the territory of the beautiful." Galvin added: "Charles has been a presence in American poetry for a long time, and it's about time he was awarded in this way. Over the years he has been an inspiration to those of us who study and teach here. He writes a courageous,. visionary poetry that reminds us all of what the real work is. He taught me a lot -- and continues to."

In addition to the Pulitzer-winning "Black Zodiac," Wright has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry, translations and non-fiction. For the New York Times Book Review, Richard Tillinghast wrote, "freed from the stringencies of unity and closure demanded by the sort of poem most readers are used to, Mr. Wright is at liberty to spin out extended meditations that pick up, work with, lay aside and return again to landscapes, historical events and ideas . . . [Wright] continues to reveal himself as a poet of great purity and originality."

The poetry editor of recommended "Black Zodiac" with this description: "These poems are investigations into the Big Truths, but they're carried out with a subtle sense of mischief as well as reverence." A critique of the book by Mairead Byrne in the Sycamore Review concluded, simply, "He's got to the stage where everything he writes is classic."

And Carol Muske wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Autobiography is what Charles Wright has been writing -- in poetic form -- for over 30 years. It has been an uncommon kind of life accounting, and his new book, 'Black Zodiac,' extends his oblique definition. For a life story, in Wright's terms, exists as much in what is not there as in what is. In 'Black Zodiac,' as the title hints, Wright ruminates on the 'dark stars' that guide our fates and provide the contrast that shapes us: the shadow, the photograph's negative, the mirror's reversals."

A Fulbright scholar and lecturer, Wright has also been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, the Eunice Tietjens Award from Poetry Magazine, the Melville Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America, an Academy-Institute grant from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the PEN Translation Prize and the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Academy of American Poets.

In 1983 he was the co-winner of the National Book Award in poetry. His recent honors include the 1993 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the 1993 Distinguished Contribution to Letters Award from the Ingram Merrill Foundation and a 1992 Award of Merit Medal from American Academy of Arts and Letters.

"This recognition for Charles Wright is long overdue," said Jorie Graham, head of the workshop's poetry area and the winner of the poetry Pulitzer in 1996, when Wright was also a finalist. "We in the workshop faculty are quite elated."

The 1998 Pulitzer Prize in poetry brings to 24 the total of literary Pulitzers won by UI faculty or students, primarily in the Writers' Workshop. Along with Graham, the most recent workshop-connected winners were Philip Levine for poetry in 1995, and Jane Smiley for fiction and James Tate for poetry in 1992. Robert Olen Butler, a graduate of the UI department of theatre arts, won the fiction Pulitzer in 1993.

The UI Writers' Workshop was the first creative writing degree program in an American university. It was the blueprint for the many writing programs that now flourish in American colleges and universities, and it remains the most influential program. With an enrollment of approximately 100 students -- 50 poets and 50 fiction writers -- it is one of the most selective graduate programs in the country, typically accepting less than five percent of its applicants.

A bibliography of Wright's work is available on the World Wide Web at the University of Virginia's site: <>.