CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: April 12, 1999
Strand wins 1999 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Cunningham
wins for fiction
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The 1999 Pulitzer Prizes, awarded today
(Monday, April 12) in New York City, honor poet Mark Strand, a graduate and
former faculty member of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Writers'
Workshop alumnus Michael Cunningham for fiction.
Strand was honored for his most recent volume of poetry,
"Blizzard of One." Plans are in progress for Strand to return to the UI as
a visiting faculty member in the spring of 2000. Cunningham received the Pulitzer
Prize for his novel "The Hours."
Two of the three 1999 Pulitzer poetry finalists were UI
graduates: UI Writers' Workshop alumna Alice Notley was nominated for "The
Descent of Alette."
Graduates of the Writers' Workshop have won four of the
last five poetry Pulitzers. Before Strand, it was won by Philip Levine in
1995, faculty member Jorie Graham in 1996, and Charles Wright in 1998.
Cunningham's previous books are "A Home at the End of
the World" and "Flesh and Blood." In "The Hours," he draws on the life of
Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who
struggle with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair.
His story "White Angel" was chosen for Best American Short
Stories 1989. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993, a National Endowment
for the Arts Fellowship in 1988, and a Michener Fellowship from the UI in
Strand was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States
in 1990. He has written nine volumes of poetry and a book of short stories,
and he is regarded as one of the most important translators of Latin American
poetry into English. He has edited several volumes of poetry and serves as
poetry editor of the New Republic magazine.
In addition to the UI Writers' Workshop, Strand has taught
at Columbia University, Mt. Holyoke College, Brooklyn College, the University
of Virginia, Yale University, Harvard University and the University of Utah.
He now is on the faculty of the Committee on Social Thought at the University
During a poetry career of more than three decades Strand
has been honored with Ingram Merrill, Fulbright, Rockefeller, American Academy
of Poets and Guggenheim fellowships; a MacArthur "genius grant"; and the Bollingen
and Bobbitt poetry prizes.
Poetry Daily said that Strand's
"Blizzard of One" poems "occupy a place that exists between abstraction and
the sensuous particulars of existence. It is a place created by a voice that
moves with unerring ease between the commonplace and the sublime. The poems
are filled with 'the weather of leave-taking,' but they are also unexpectedly
funny. The erasure of self and the depredations of time are seen as sources
of sorrow, but also as grounds for celebrations. 'Blizzard of One' is an extraordinary
book -- the summation of the work of a lifetime by one of our very few true
masters of the art of poetry. "
UI emeritus faculty member and Pulitzer winner Donald
Justice, who taught Strand in the Writers' Workshop, says, "I think he's a
wonderful person and a wonderful poet. I can't think of anyone who would deserve
it more. I'm particularly impressed by the new book's mastery of traditional
forms, which he has not used before. It shows that he can do anything he wants
Jorie Graham, head of the poetry section of the Writers'
Workshop, says that in addition to the virtues of Strand's writing, one of
his special qualities is his unwavering dedication to the work of younger
poets. "Many poets, at some stage in their careers, become disengaged," she
observes. "But Mark has remained alert and committed to the work of young
poets, and he has 'discovered' many important young writers."
Graham also notes Strand's abiding sense of connection
with Iowa City and the UI, where he read virtually the entire "Blizzard of
One" volume in an event last year. "He is more than just a very loyal friend
of the university and the workshop," she says. "Last time he was here he wanted
me to take him around to visit all the houses here where he'd written. And
he wanted to drive down Summit Street to see if a particular tree was still
standing -- the tree under which he had the only fight of his life, beating
up a guy who was giving his girlfriend too much attention."
The 1999 Pulitzer Prizes in poetry and fiction bring to
26 the total of literary Pulitzers won by UI faculty or students, primarily
in the Writers' Workshop.
Other recent UI-connected Pulitzer winners are former
faculty member Philip Roth for fiction last year; Jane Smiley for fiction
and James Tate for poetry in 1992; and Robert Olen Butler, a graduate of the
UI department of theatre arts, for fiction 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 of any kind, typically accepting less than five percent
of its applicants.
Learn more about Mark Strand on the World Wide Web at
Meet Michael Cunningham at http://www.literati.net/Cunningham/.