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CGU names Kingsley/Kate Tufts top winner

And the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize goes to Ross Gay, for his most recent collection, Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude.

The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award is presented annually by Claremont Graduate University to a mid-career poet who has accomplished much but has not yet reached the pinnacle of their career. It carries a $100,00 purse, the world’s largest prize for a single collection of poetry.

Mr. Gay—who teaches at Indiana University and in Drew University’s low-residency MFA program in poetry and poetry in translation—has released two previous collections, “Bringing the Shovel Down” (2011) and “Against Which” (2006) and is coauthor of the chapbooks “Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens” and River, collaborations he undertook with Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., respectively. Catalog of Unabashed Grattitude is a current finalist for the National Book Critics Award.

The poet has a wide range of interests and involvement. Along with serving as editor for the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press, he is co-founding editor of the online sports magazine Some Call It Ballin’. He is also founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a nonprofit, free-fruit-for-all food justice project.

His poems are marked by vivid imagery, evident in the nearly epic-length title poem from his latest book. Mr. Gay describes a dream in which he is awakened by his dead father and stumbled, laughing, smiling and singing into a garden.

He describes the garden thusly: “the Juneberry’s flowers had burst open/like the bells of French horns, the lily/ my mother and I planted oozed into the air,/the bazillion ants labored in their earthen workshops/below, the collard greens waved in the wind/like the sails of ships, and the wasps/swam in the mint bloom’s viscous swill. . .”

In a recent Associated Press story, Chief Judge Chase Twichell shared that the jury was impressed by Mr. Gay’s “fresh, exploratory and curious” voice.

“Although modest and unpretentious, Ross has an authority that allows him to speak directly into the ear of the reader with a disarming intimacy, one that makes us feel that each poem turns directly toward us as we read,” Ms. Twichell said. “It's hard to describe, but trust me, it’s a rare quality.”

The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, along with the Kate Tufts Discovery Prize, are awards established by Kate Tufts to honor the memory of her husband, a shipping executive who wrote poetry as an avocation. Because of its size and prestige, the Kingsley-Tufts Prize is fast becoming one of the most sought-after honors in the poetry world.

“Because the award comes to you at mid-career, and is supposed to be a stepping stone and not a tombstone, it nerves you up to try to write up to the mark already set by the previous winners,” past recipient Tom Sleigh said.

Claremont Graduate University has also announced the recipient of this year’s Kate Tufts Discovery Prize, which is given annually to a poet whose debut book of poetry shows them to be a writer of genuine promise. Danez Smith has won the accolade along with a $10,000 purse. He Smith impressed the judges with his inaugural effort, “[insert] boy.” 

“The award is a confidence-builder,” Janice Harrington, the 2008 winner, said. “It’s that bit of light in the darkness that allows you to see your way, so that you can keep trying to write your best poetry.”

The poets will receive their awards at a campus ceremony on April 7.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com