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Release: April 12, 1999

Strand wins 1999 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Cunningham wins for fiction

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The 1999 Pulitzer Prizes, awarded today (Monday, April 12) in New York City, honor poet Mark Strand, a graduate and former faculty member of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Writers' Workshop alumnus Michael Cunningham for fiction.

Strand was honored for his most recent volume of poetry, "Blizzard of One." Plans are in progress for Strand to return to the UI as a visiting faculty member in the spring of 2000. Cunningham received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel "The Hours."

Two of the three 1999 Pulitzer poetry finalists were UI graduates: UI Writers' Workshop alumna Alice Notley was nominated for "The Descent of Alette."

Graduates of the Writers' Workshop have won four of the last five poetry Pulitzers. Before Strand, it was won by Philip Levine in 1995, faculty member Jorie Graham in 1996, and Charles Wright in 1998.

Cunningham's previous books are "A Home at the End of the World" and "Flesh and Blood." In "The Hours," he draws on the life of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who struggle with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair.

His story "White Angel" was chosen for Best American Short Stories 1989. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1988, and a Michener Fellowship from the UI in 1982.

Strand was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States in 1990. He has written nine volumes of poetry and a book of short stories, and he is regarded as one of the most important translators of Latin American poetry into English. He has edited several volumes of poetry and serves as poetry editor of the New Republic magazine.

In addition to the UI Writers' Workshop, Strand has taught at Columbia University, Mt. Holyoke College, Brooklyn College, the University of Virginia, Yale University, Harvard University and the University of Utah. He now is on the faculty of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

During a poetry career of more than three decades Strand has been honored with Ingram Merrill, Fulbright, Rockefeller, American Academy of Poets and Guggenheim fellowships; a MacArthur "genius grant"; and the Bollingen and Bobbitt poetry prizes.

Poetry Daily said that Strand's "Blizzard of One" poems "occupy a place that exists between abstraction and the sensuous particulars of existence. It is a place created by a voice that moves with unerring ease between the commonplace and the sublime. The poems are filled with 'the weather of leave-taking,' but they are also unexpectedly funny. The erasure of self and the depredations of time are seen as sources of sorrow, but also as grounds for celebrations. 'Blizzard of One' is an extraordinary book -- the summation of the work of a lifetime by one of our very few true masters of the art of poetry. "

UI emeritus faculty member and Pulitzer winner Donald Justice, who taught Strand in the Writers' Workshop, says, "I think he's a wonderful person and a wonderful poet. I can't think of anyone who would deserve it more. I'm particularly impressed by the new book's mastery of traditional forms, which he has not used before. It shows that he can do anything he wants to do."

Jorie Graham, head of the poetry section of the Writers' Workshop, says that in addition to the virtues of Strand's writing, one of his special qualities is his unwavering dedication to the work of younger poets. "Many poets, at some stage in their careers, become disengaged," she observes. "But Mark has remained alert and committed to the work of young poets, and he has 'discovered' many important young writers."

Graham also notes Strand's abiding sense of connection with Iowa City and the UI, where he read virtually the entire "Blizzard of One" volume in an event last year. "He is more than just a very loyal friend of the university and the workshop," she says. "Last time he was here he wanted me to take him around to visit all the houses here where he'd written. And he wanted to drive down Summit Street to see if a particular tree was still standing -- the tree under which he had the only fight of his life, beating up a guy who was giving his girlfriend too much attention."

The 1999 Pulitzer Prizes in poetry and fiction bring to 26 the total of literary Pulitzers won by UI faculty or students, primarily in the Writers' Workshop.

Other recent UI-connected Pulitzer winners are former faculty member Philip Roth for fiction last year; Jane Smiley for fiction and James Tate for poetry in 1992; and Robert Olen Butler, a graduate of the UI department of theatre arts, for fiction in 1993.

The UI Writers' Workshop was the first creative writing degree program in an American university. It was the blueprint for the many writing programs that now flourish in American colleges and universities, and it remains the most influential program. With an enrollment of approximately 100 students -- 50 poets and 50 fiction writers -- it is one of the most selective graduate programs of any kind, typically accepting less than five percent of its applicants.

Learn more about Mark Strand on the World Wide Web at these sites:
http://www.emerson.edu/ploughshares/Winter1995/Strand_Profile.html
http://www.poems.com/blizzstr.htm
http://www.poets.org/lit/POET/mstrand.htm

Meet Michael Cunningham at http://www.literati.net/Cunningham/.