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English prof. wins poetry award

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Professor of English Michael Harper is receiving the Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal for a lifetime of distinguished contribution to American poetry.

Harper, 69, has published 15 books of poetry. His most recent was a tribute to his father, titled, “I Do Believe in People: Remembrances of W. Warren Harper (1915-2004).” Harper has received numerous awards for his work and served as Rhode Island’s first poet laureate from 1988 to 1993.

Now, the Poetry Society of America is honoring Harper with its Frost Medal for lifetime achievement – the organization’s highest award, said PSA executive director Alice Quinn. Receiving the honor places Harper in eminent company: Allen Ginsberg, Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks and the award’s namesake, Robert Frost, are all past recipients.

Speaking of PSA’s selection criteria for Frost Medal recipients, Quinn said, “What we’re looking for is somebody who is undeniably distinguished and who has been an inspiring presence in the world of poetry.” Quinn said that, in addition to being recognized for his or her writing, a nominee must also be distinguished by service to American poetry. Harper’s work as an editor and teacher, she added, makes him highly qualified in that regard. Harper has edited a collection of poetry and an anthology of black literature, among other works.

Harper has taught for more than three decades at Brown. Rosemary Cullen, senior scholarly resources librarian at the John Hay Library, said that Harper has repeatedly taken advantage of the Hay’s collections in his teaching and research.

The PSA may already be honoring Harper for lifetime achievement, but the poet himself said he is still discovering himself.

“We are all in the process of discovering who we are,” Harper said.

While he said he cannot foresee the direction that his writing will take in the future, Harper already has at least one new project in the works. His next collection, “Use Trouble,” whose title poem is a tribute to 20th-century artist Jacob Armstead Lawrence, will be available this fall, he said.

Students may even run into Harper on their next visit to the John Hay Library. Harper said that his immediate plans include spending time at the Hay to read the poems of Robert Frost in preparation for his address at the PSA’s 98th Annual Awards Ceremony on April 21 in New York City.

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