Marilyn Nelson Wins Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

Today the Poetry Foundation named Marilyn Nelson the winner of the 2019 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The annual award for outstanding lifetime achievement is one of the most prestigious awards given to American poets and includes a $100,000 prize. The Poetry Foundation also named Terrance Hayes the recipient of the 2019 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism and Naomi Shihab Nye the 2019–2021 Young People’s Poet Laureate. The three awards will be presented at the Pegasus Awards Ceremony at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago on June 10.

Poet and translator Marilyn Nelson has published several books, including three poetry collections that were finalists for the National Book Award: Carver: A Life in Poems (Front Street Press, 2001), The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1997), and The Homeplace (Louisiana State University Press, 1990). Nelson won the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 2012 and is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut at Storrs and was the state’s poet laureate from 2001 to 2006.

“Marilyn Nelson has been committed throughout her career to meticulously chronicling the contemporary and historical experience—and contributions—of Black people in America,” said Don Share, editor of the foundation’s magazine, Poetry. “Everyone who cares about how life is lived and felt in this country should read her vivid and deeply considered work.”

The inaugural Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize was awarded to Adrienne Rich in 1986. The prize has since been awarded to Gary Snyder, C. K. Williams, W. S. Merwin, Joy Harjo, and Martín Espada, among others.

The Young People’s Poet Laureate title, which includes a $25,000 prize, celebrates a living writer’s devotion to writing exceptional poetry for young readers. As the 2019–2021 laureate, Nye plans to bring poetry to geographically underserved areas. Nye, who is a professor of creative writing at Texas State University, has published several poetry collections for both young readers and adults. BOA Editions published her most recent collection for adults, The Tiny Journalist, last month.

The $7,500 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, which honors a book of poetry criticism published in the previous year, was awarded to Terrance Hayes for his book To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight (Wave Books, 2018). A professor at New York University, Hayes has been recognized with numerous awards, including a 2010 National Book Award for his poetry collection Lighthead (Penguin Books, 2010).