Yusef Komunyakaa and Joan Larkin Receive Major Poetry Awards

Posted on

Sep 12 2011


New York, September 12—Yusef Komunyakaa has been selected as the recipient of the 2011 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. The $100,000 prize recognizes outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. Joan Larkin has been selected as the recipient of the 2011 Academy Fellowship. The Fellowship is awarded annually to a poet for distinguished poetic achievement and provides a stipend of $25,000. The Academy's Board of Chancellors, a body of fifteen eminent poets, selects the Wallace Stevens Award and Academy Fellowship recipients.

Yusef Komunyakaa and Joan Larkin will be honored at the fifth annual Poets Forum, October 20-22, in New York City. They will read from their work at the Poets Awards Ceremony on Friday, October 21, 7:00 p.m. at The New School's Tishman Auditorium.

About Yusef Komunyakaa's work, Academy Chancellor Lyn Hejinian says:

"The landscape of American poetry was radically altered in the 1970s. Poets in the U.S. variously bore witness to the flowering of the Civil Rights Movement, the impact of European critical theory on notions regarding the meaning and function of poetry, and the challenge to accepted models of 'representation' (of class, race, gender, etc.). Yusef Komunyakaa stepped into this landscape as a veteran returning from the cruelties of the Vietnam War, but he did not reduce his engagements with the dolorous, as well as delightful, aspects of postmodern life to anything that these various manifestations of postmodernity might have predicted. A poet of delicate innuendo and unembittered honesty, Yusef Komunyakaa has done honor to the craft and possibility of poetry in America and to any and all who refuse to make it anything but great."

Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1947, where he was raised during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. He served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 as a correspondent, and as managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam War, earning him a Bronze Star. He received his MA and MFA in creative writing from Colorado State University and the University of California, Irvine, respectively.

Komunyakaa's thirteen books of poetry include Taboo (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan, 1988), Neon Vernacular (1993), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize, Warhorses (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), and most recently The Chameleon Couch (2011). His many honors include the William Faulkner Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award for Poetry, and the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999-2006. His plays, performance art and libretti have been performed internationally and include Saturnalia, Testimony, and Gilgamesh. He teaches at New York University.

About writing, Yusef Komunyakaa has said:

"...my work is informed by the imagination, and that is more than merely autobiographical. I think it all connects to an image. I rely heavily on an image. And I suppose if it's autobiographical because it comes from within one, then everything is autobiographical in that sense. There are certain things that beckon to each of us. The whole of the human experience, I'm interested in. I want to be surprised by everyday things, such as the maggot or the scorpion, or what have you."


Joan Larkin was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1939. She received a BA from Swarthmore College, an MA in English from the University of Arizona, and an MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College. Larkin's most recent book, My Body: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press, 2007), received the Publishing Triangle's Audre Lorde Award. Her previous books include Housework (Out & Out Books, 1982), A Long Sound (Granite Press, 1986), Sor Juana's Love Poems (University of Wisconsin Press, 2003) translated with Jaime Manrique, and Cold River (Painted Leaf Press, 1997), winner of a Lambda Literary Award.

About Larkin's work, Academy Chancellor Juan Felipe Herrera says:

"Perhaps like Max Beckmann in exile, painter of compressed scenes in heavy black, stark eyes and bold large hands, or like Frida Kahlo who wrote the word love on paper bags, napkins, and on the blood spattered frames of women giving torn birth, or like O'Keeffe's fearless death-dark petals calling you into the abyss, in her collected verse, Joan Larkin leads you to battle. It is a solo campaign with 'no magicians no gifts no ideas,' a jagged journey where full life abides, brutal seeing abides, body hurt compassion abides, not the easy tra-la-la kind you were thinking of, but an incredible tangled-up, untangled kind that can only unfold freedom out of its own ashes, so then it takes flight—a kind of 'God of Breath,' scar-crossed, multi-voice-sparked—without boundary. Joan Larkin is a major literary force of the twenty-first century."

Larkin lives in Brooklyn and teaches in the Drew University MFA Program in Poetry and Poetry in Translation. This year she was also the recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.

About a life in poetry, Larkin has said:

"Hearing a living poet read can be like hearing a great singer, and I'm lucky to have heard some unforgettable, great voices—Rukeyser, Duncan, Ginsberg, to name just a few. And I'm moved when words on a page deliver the sense of a unique voice. When Keats, in the urgent fragment that begins 'This living hand,' writes 'See here it is—I hold it towards you,' the barrier of time disappears. I have an immediate physical and emotional experience, a fresh encounter. This is why I go back to poetry again and again—to have that encounter."

The Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets

The Wallace Stevens Award and Academy Fellowship recipients are nominated and elected by the Academy's Board of Chancellors. The current Chancellors are Victor Hernández Cruz, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Marilyn Hacker, Lyn Hejinian, Juan Felipe Herrera, Edward Hirsch, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Ron Padgett, Carl Phillips, Marie Ponsot, Kay Ryan, Gerald Stern, and Anne Waldman.

About the Wallace Stevens Award

The Wallace Stevens Award is given annually by the Academy of American Poets to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. Established in 1994, the award carries a stipend of $100,000. The previous recipients are W. S. Merwin, James Tate, Adrienne Rich, Anthony Hecht, A. R. Ammons, Jackson Mac Low, Frank Bidart, John Ashbery, Ruth Stone, Richard Wilbur, Mark Strand, Gerald Stern, Michael Palmer, Charles Simic, Louise Glück, Jean Valentine, and Galway Kinnell.

About the Academy Fellowship

The Academy of American Poets established its Fellowship in 1937. It was the very first cash award given annually to an American poet and is given in memory of James Ingram Merrill. Former fellows include Gwendolyn Brooks, E. E. Cummings, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Robert Hayden, and more recently Lyn Hejinian, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Jay Wright, Claudia Rankine, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Harryette Mullen, and Khaled Mattawa.

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.