The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation presented David Gewanter, associate professor of English at Georgetown, a $35,000 award last month for his poetry. Gewanter won the Whiting Writers’ Award for 2002, given annually to 10 “emerging writers of exceptional talent and promise.”

Gewanter was recognized for his collection of poetry In the Belly, which was published in 1997. His next compilation called Sleep of Reason, is slated for publication in 2003. Gewanter also worked as a co-editor for The Collected poems of Robert Lowell with Frank Bidart, also being released in 2003. Gewanter’s current project is a book called Identity Poetics, which has not yet been given a final publication date.

Gewanter teaches courses in poetry, along with two sections of the Texts and Contexts class. He focuses primarily on courses that deal with history of the lyric or even contemporary poetry. He will be teaching a section of Introduction to Writing this spring as well.

“What do I think they liked about it? I have no idea,” Gewanter said regarding his poetry. “The selection committee is completely anonymous, and you don’t know who nominated you. It’s like winning the lottery without buying a lottery ticket . although to be considered an `emerging writer’ and to be gray-haired is pretty ironic.”

Gewanter plans to use the money to take the necessary time off to further pursue his writing. Even though he has numerous books that are about to be released, he is already involved in other projects. “By the time something comes out, it’s healthy to be a little distant from your work, this is better than being subject to the response to the work or lack of response,” Gewanter said.

On Oct. 30, in the Pierpont Morgan Library of New York, President of the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation Robert L. Belknap announced the winners and presented their awards.

The winners of this year’s award included five fiction writers, three poets and two playwrights. After considering almost 100 candidates, the final 10 were selected. Along with Gewanter, the winners included Jeffrey Renard Allen, Elizabeth Arnold, Justin Cronin, Kim Edwards, Melissa James Gibson, Michelle Huneven, Danzy Senna, Evan Smith and Joshua Weiner.

Members of the foundation nominate Whiting Writers’ Awards’ contenders from across the country. An anonymous selection committee of recognized writers, editors and English scholars, who are appointed annually by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, then choose the winners. During four meetings over the course of a year, the members of the selection committee discuss the candidates’ work and gradually come up with a list of 10 winners. One cannot file an application or receive unsolicited nominations.

“[O]ur selection group presented us with a richly various group of Whiting winners, all of whom are just beginning to come into their own,” Director of the Writers’ program Barbara K. Bristol said in a press release. “We expect these writers will continue to produce strong work in the future and we hope that this award will help make that possible.”

Flora E. Whiting established the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation in 1963. In 1972, after her unrestricted donation of $10 million, the Foundation was able to offer Whiting Fellowships in the Humanities for doctoral candidates in their dissertation year. Gerald Freund first organized the Whiting Writers’ Awards in 1985 and led the program until his death in 1997.

In its 17 years of existence, 170 poets, authors and playwrights have won the Whiting Writers’ Awards, totaling $4.5 million.

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