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Norton Poets Online: Ellen Bryant Voigt
Biography and poems from Shadow of Heaven and Kyrie.
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Ellen Bryant Voigt
Photo: Nancy Crampton

Ellen Bryant Voigt

Ellen Bryant Voigt was born and raised on a farm in Virginia. As a child, she showed an aptitude for music and began playing the piano. Initially a music major, Voigt attended Converse College for its music conservatory, but eventually she shifted her studies to literature and poetry. She went on to receive an MFA from the University of Iowa.

She is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Headwaters: Poems (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013); Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 (2007); Shadow of Heaven (2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; Kyrie (1995), a finalist for the National Book Critic's Circle Award; Two Trees (1992); The Lotus Flowers (1987); The Forces of Plenty (1983); and Claiming Kin (1976).

Her work as an editor includes Hammer and Blaze: A Gathering of Contemporary American Poets (with Heather McHugh, 2002); The Flexible Lyric (2001), a collection of essays on craft; and Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World (with Gregory Orr, 1996), a collection of essays on the craft and relevance of poetry. She has also contributed photography for Kathleen Pierce's book of poetry, Mercy (1991).

Voigt's earlier work has been praised by Stanley Kunitz for its "sense of mutability and loss, an abiding set of loyalties, and a fierce attachment to the land." More recently, Philip Levine noted that her poems "are driven forward by lyrical restraint and by a ferocity of attention... Her writing has achieved the ambition of great poetry, the contact baptism of newly created things."

Voigt's honors include the 2002 Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, the 2002 O. B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize, grants from the Vermont Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund fellowship and a Pushcart Prize.

In 1976, she developed and directed the nation's first low-residency writing program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont—a design for graduate MFA study that has since been emulated by many other colleges and universities. Since 1981 she has taught in the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College.

Voigt has served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets since 2003. She lives in Cabot, Vermont, where she served as the Vermont State Poet from 1999 to 2003.

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