Poetry is a craft and a spiritual practice, but it is more, says Ross Gay ’96, the recipient of a prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship 2013 for Creative Arts–Poetry.
The craft comes in thinking about form, diction, and “fiddling with syntax and line,” and “it’s a close cousin to prayer, no doubt—but it’s also play and wandering and silence…I write my poems, surely, but if I write with openness and seriousness, and a commitment to mystery and the unknown, then they ‘write me’ as well. I try for that. In fact that’s the reason I write poems.”
Gay, assistant professor of English and associate director of creative writing at Indiana University-Bloomington, plans to use his fellowship funds to explore new forms of writing and poetry, as well as interview African American farmers from across the nation for a book project.
Guggenheim Fellowships recognize the demonstration of exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. The 89th annual competition for the United States and Canada attracted almost 3,000 applicants. Gay was among the 175 scholars, artists, and scientists who received this mid-career honor.
Read Gay’s recent essay, “Some Thoughts on Mercy,” published in The Sun (July 2013).
An English and honors art graduate, Gay was the George Wharton Pepper Prize winner and a defensive end on Lafayette’s 1994 Patriot League championship team. He received a master’s in fine art from Sarah Lawrence College and a Ph.D. in American literature from Temple University.
The author of two poetry collections, Bringing the Shovel Down (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011) and Against Which (CavanKerry Press, 2006), his poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Massachusetts Review, and The Sun, among other magazines and anthologies. He is also the co-author, with painter Kimberly Thomas, of the artists’ books The Halo, BRN2HNT, and The Bullet. He teaches at Drew University’s Low-Residency MFA program and has been a Cave Canem Fellow and a Bread Loaf tuition scholar.
Gay is also a founding member of Bloomington Community Orchard, a publicly owned, volunteer-run, free-fruit-for-all, organic orchard, where he serves as co-chair of the education team. In this capacity he teaches or co-teaches 10 classes a year on various aspects of orcharding, from pruning to propagation.