Eleanor Lerman Receives the Lenore Marshall Prize; Tracy K. Smith Receives the James Laughlin Award

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Oct 17 2006

New York, October 17—The Academy of American poets and The Nation magazine are pleased to announce that Eleanor Lerman's collection Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds (Sarabande Books) was chosen by poets Carl Dennis, Tony Hoagland, and Carol Muske-Dukes to receive the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, which awards $25,000 to the most outstanding book of poetry published the previous year. The finalists for the award are Christian Barter, The Singers I Prefer (CavanKerry Press); Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven (Knopf); Dorianne Laux, Facts About the Moon (W. W. Norton); and Ron Slate, The Incentive of the Maggot (Mariner Books).

Eleanor Lerman published her first book of poetry, Armed Love (Wesleyan University Press), in 1973 when she was 21. The book was nominated for a National Book Award, and while Lerman quickly became known as an exciting young poet with a direct, new voice, she also faced criticism for her overt tone. A reviewer for The New York Times stated that if poetry were rated, Armed Love would receive a "double X." Lerman published one more collection and then, partly in response to the backlash against her first book, which looked frankly at sexuality and popular culture, did not write another book of poems for 25 years.

When Sarah Gorham, president of Sarabande Books started the press, she approached Lerman, whom she had long admired, and asked if Lerman might have a book for Sarabande. Lerman compiled a manuscript of poems, and in 2001 Sarabande published The Mystery of Meteors, followed by Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds.

In response to winning the award, Lerman said:

When I turned back to my writing career after a long absence, I knew that not only would I have to rededicate myself to my work, but that I would have to change everything about my life in order to do that. It is extraordinary, now, to be recognized in this way, for having been given the chance to fall back in love with poetry and the writer's life.

On choosing the collection for the Marshall Prize, poet Tony Hoagland wrote:

Eleanor Lerman's poems have sociological savvy, philosophical rue, historical recognition, and vernacular resilience. They sing a song that is bravely gloomy, but they sing it with a fierce and earned dignity.

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The Academy of American Poets is also pleased to announce that Tracy K. Smith's book Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007) has been selected by Elizabeth Alexander, Kimiko Hahn, and Terrance Hayes to receive the 2006 James Laughlin Award, a $5,000 prize that recognizes and supports a poet's second book. The finalist for the prize is Frannie Lindsay's Lamb (Perugia Press, 2006).

While Eleanor Lerman is experiencing what many would call a comeback, Smith's career has been meteoric from the start. After receiving degrees in English and creative writing from Harvard College and Columbia University, Smith received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in poetry at Stanford University. Her first book, The Body's Question (Graywolf Press, 2003), was chosen by Kevin Young to receive the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a prestigious award for a first book by an African American poet. Smith went on to receive a 2004 Rona Jaffe Writers' Award and a 2005 Whiting Writers' Award, among other honors, and she is an assistant professor of creative writing at Princeton University.

Smith's work is known for its lyrical beauty and its look outside the self. The voices in her poems inhabit a larger world beyond the confines of the present moment, but without ignoring immediate political and social concerns.

Tree Swenson, the Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, stated, "Reading these books together, one is impressed that we live in a time when these strong, yet very different, voices can be recognized for their power."

Both Eleanor Lerman and Tracy K. Smith will read from their work at the Academy of American Poets Awards Ceremony & Reading on November 8, 2006. This event is held in New York City and is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.poets.org/calendar.

About the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize was established in 1975 by the New Hope Foundation in memory of Lenore Marshall (1897–1971), a poet, novelist, essayist, and political activist. Lenore Marshall was the author of three novels, three books of poetry, a collection of short stories, and selections from her notebooks. Her work also appeared in The New Yorker, The Saturday Review, Partisan Review, and other literary magazines. In 1956 she helped found the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, the citizens' organization that lobbied successfully for passage of the 1963 partial nuclear test ban treaty.

An essay by Tony Hoagland on Eleanor Lerman's prize-winning collection will appear in The Nation, along with a selection of poems from the book. The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize is endowed by a gift to the Academy of American Poets from the New Hope Foundation, which for more than forty years worked to support world peace, literature, and the arts. The Nation first joined with the New Hope Foundation to present the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1982.

The Nation, founded in 1865, is America's oldest weekly magazine. Well known as a journal of political analysis, The Nation also has a long and distinguished literary history. Such notable writers as Henry James, William James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell were among its original contributors. Many poets have contributed to its pages, including T. S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, W. H. Auden, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, and Robert Lowell. Each year the magazine and the Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y co-sponsor "Discovery"/The Nation, an award for younger poets. To find out more about The Nation visit www.thenation.com.

About the James Laughlin Award
The James Laughlin Award is given to commend and support a poet's second book of poetry. The award was established by a gift to the Academy from the Drue Heinz Trust in honor of the poet and publisher James Laughlin (1914–1997). As a sophomore at Harvard College, James Laughlin founded New Directions, one of the most important publishers of twentieth-century literature. Writers whose work has been published by New Directions include Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Denise Levertov, Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, Delmore Schwartz, Gertrude Stein, Tennessee Williams, and William Carlos Williams. Mr. Laughlin was the author of numerous books of fiction, essays, and poetry, including Collected Poems (1993), The Man in the Wall (1993), and Random Stories (1990).

The Drue Heinz Trust is a private charitable foundation, whose director is Drue Heinz, the widow of the "57 Varieties" former chairman, the current publisher of the Paris Review, and the former publisher of Antaeus, the international quarterly of contemporary literature. Mrs. Heinz and James Laughlin were long-time friends and colleagues, sharing a vital interest in good writing.

About the Academy of American Poets
The Academy of American Poets is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1934 to foster appreciation for contemporary poetry and to support American poets at all stages of their careers. For over three generations, the Academy has connected millions of people to great poetry through programs such as National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world; Poets.org, the most popular site about poetry on the web, presenting a wealth of great poems, audio recordings, poet biographies, essays, and interactive discussions about poetry; the Poetry Audio Archive, capturing the voices of contemporary American poets for generations to come; American Poet, a biannual literary journal; and our annual series of poetry readings and special events. The Academy also awards prizes to accomplished poets at all stages of their careers—from hundreds of student prizes at colleges nationwide to the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement in the art of poetry. For more information, visit www.poets.org.