Jennifer K. Sweeney Receives the James Laughlin Award

Posted on

Aug 04 2009

$5,000 for an outstanding second book

New York, August 4 — The Academy of American Poets announced today that Jennifer K. Sweeney's collection How to Live on Bread and Music (Perugia Press) was chosen by poets Robin Becker, Bob Hicok, and Afaa M. Weaver to receive the 2009 James Laughlin Award, which gives $5,000 to the most outstanding second book by an American poet in the previous year. Elizabeth Bradfield's Approaching Ice (Persea Books) and Brian Turner's Phantom Noise (Alice James Books) were named finalists for the award.

About the selection, Afaa Michael Weaver says:

Jennifer K. Sweeney's How to Live on Bread and Music is a remarkable achievement from the hand of a poet with a subtle and compassionate mindfulness. These are poems that tell us we move forward in moments when motion seems all too risky and stillness all too intolerable. Adept at the delicate project of inventiveness in the line, she shows us time and again that language is the matter of the poet and that there is surprise in the gift, as this book is sure evidence of the gift.

Jennifer K. Sweeney's first book of poems, Salt Memory, won the 2006 Main Street Rag Poetry Award. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Southern Review, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard, Spoon River and Passages North, where she won the 2009 Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize. She was awarded a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission and a residency from Hedgebrook. Sweeney holds an MFA from Vermont College and serves as assistant editor for DMQ Review. After living in San Francisco for twelve years, she currently lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her husband, poet Chad Sweeney.

Robin Becker is the author of Domain of Perfect Affection, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006); The Horse Fair (2000); All-American Girl (1996), which won the 1996 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry; Giacometti's Dog (1990); Backtalk (1982); and Personal Effects (1977). Her honors include fellowships from the Mary Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a Professor of English and Women's Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Bob Hicok's most recent collection, This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), was awarded the 2008 Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress. His other books are Insomnia Diary (Pitt, 2004), Animal Soul (Invisible Cities Press, 2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Plus Shipping (BOA, 1998), and The Legend of Light (University of Wisconsin, 1995), which received the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. A recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, Guggenheim and two NEA Fellowships, his poetry has been selected for inclusion in five volumes of Best American Poetry.

Afaa M. Weaver's first book of poetry, Water Song, was published in 1985 as part of the Callaloo series. Since then, Weaver has published eight more collections of poetry, including Multitudes, Sandy Point, and The Ten Lights of God, all of which appeared in 2000. Weaver has been a Pew fellow in poetry and taught in National Taiwan University and Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar. He is the Alumnae Professor of English and Director of the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts.

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 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.

The Drue Heinz Trust is a private charitable foundation directed by Drue Heinz, the widow of the "57 Varieties" former chairman, currently on the Board of Directors of the Paris Review, she is the former publisher of the Paris Review, and 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.