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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 Amazon.com 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
A bibliography of Wright's work is available on the World Wide Web at
the University of Virginia's site: <http://www.engl.virginia.edu/faculty/wright.html>.