Forché Wins Poetry Fellowship
Published: Saturday, October 5, 2013
Updated: Saturday, October 5, 2013 10:10
Poet, human rights activist and Georgetown professor Carolyn Forché was the recipient of this year’s Academy of American Poets fellowship.
Forché currently serves as director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown. She is also the author of four collections of poetry and most recently co-authored an anthology, “The Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English: 1500-2001” with English professor Duncan Wu.
The Academy of American Poets fellowship, which has been awarded to poets for distinguished poetic achievement since 1936, includes a stipend of $25,000. Past recipients include e.e. cummings, Ezra Pound and alumnus J.D. McClatchy (CAS ’67).
“To be singled out for this was both a stunning surprise and a deep honor. I still don’t believe it,” Forché said.
Each year, one poet is selected by a group of 15 award-winning American poets.
“Our organization very much admires her work,” Academy of American Poets Executive Director Jennifer Benka said. “The fellowship is given for distinguished poetic achievement and obviously Carolyn Forché has demonstrated that with the number of books she has published and, beyond that, her commitment to human rights.”
Writing has always been a passion for Forché, who began reading and writing poetry at age nine under her mother’s guidance.
“My mother taught me about meter and rhyme and the sonnet form. She gave me what I now realize were her college textbooks when I was a little girl,” Forché said. “I began writing [poems], I enjoyed it. I was enchanted.”
Forché’s zeal for creative writing took her to graduate school at Bowling Green State University, where she also developed a passion for teaching. Forché went on to teach at the University of Virginia, Skidmore College, Columbia University, San Diego State University and George Mason University before coming to Georgetown where she is the Lannan Chair in Poetry.
Much of Forché’s writing has been informed by her involvement with human rights activism in war-stricken countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Lebanon and South Africa during apartheid.
“I had really thought that the human rights work and the poetry were separate for a long time, but there was a fusion as the experiences I had in these places entered the writing,” Forché said.
While Forché does not consider her poetry to be political, she does recognize the contentious nature of her work, so she was surprised when she was selected to receive the fellowship.
“When one is doing controversial work, one doesn’t expect rewards,” Forché said.
The Board of Chancellors at the Academy of American Poets felt otherwise. In a citation prepared for Forché, AAP Chancellor Juan Felipe Herrera said that Forché’s accounts of war and peril made her an appealing candidate for the fellowship.
“Carolyn Forché’s poems deny us escape,” Herrera wrote. “Here is a prophet-poet mashed in newspapers, fish tins, pine roots, spirit chants and pushed down cut-off ears of los desaparecidos, the ‘disappeared’ in El Salvador; with her eyes cut into stanzas and her khaki shirt soaked with impossible love for a country, a nation, a humanity … riddled with vast indifference and expensive war suffering.”
Dennis Todd, interim chair of the English Department, was not surprised by news of Forché’s award.
“Anyone who is familiar with contemporary poetry knows how richly she deserves the award,” Todd wrote in an email. “I hope one of the effects of this honor will be that more and more people will come to recognize what a treasure the university has in her.”
Forché will accept the award later this month at the Poets Forum, held at the Academy of American Poets in New York. She will also give the Blaney Lecture during the forum, an honor unrelated to her receiving the fellowship.
“It’s lovely that [the award] comes at this time for me, when I finished a new book and when the anthology is about to come out and when I’m here at Georgetown,” Forché said. “It’s nice to be here when this occurs. I’ll never forget this moment, the moment of having this special honor.”