The Library of Congress is accepting nominations from publishers for the $10,000 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry. The prize will be awarded in April, which is National Poetry Month.
The prize, given biennially, is for the 2008 award. It will be presented to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years, 2006 and 2007, or for lifetime achievement in poetry. Publishers may submit entries for the best book; the lifetime achievement awarding is at the sole discretion of the prize jury.
Applications must be submitted no later than Feb. 6, 2008. A large mailing of announcements, along with rules and application forms, will go out today to publishers from the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center. They are also available online at www.loc.gov/poetry/
. Rules must be closely followed for a submission to be eligible.
The prize is given by the family of the late Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory. She was the first of three sisters of President Lyndon B. Johnson. While a graduate student in Washington during the 1930s, Rebekah Johnson was an employee of the Library of Congress, where she met co-worker O.P. Bobbitt, whom she later married.
Their son, Philip C. Bobbitt, once described how his parents used old index cards at the Library to pass notes to one another to further their romance. “Some time after my mother’s death, my father and I decided to endow a memorial in her honor and, owing to the history I have described, the Library of Congress was suggested as a possible recipient of this memoriam.”
Past winners of the Bobbitt National Poetry Prize include W.S. Merwin, who won in 2006 for “Present Company” (Copper Canyon Press); B.H. Fairchild in 2004 for “Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (W.W. Norton); and Alice Fulton in 2002 for “Felt” (W.W. Norton).
When the Bobbitt Prize was first given in 1990, it was a milestone in the Library’s history. It was the first such award given by the Library since 1949, when the Joint Congressional Committee on the Library of Congress in 1949 adopted a policy prohibiting the Library from granting any more awards or prizes as a result of the controversy surrounding the Library’s presentation of the 1948 Bollingen Prize to Ezra Pound for his “Pisan Cantos.” The Bollingen Prize is now administered by the Yale University Library.
On April 15, 1988 the Joint Committee on the Library approved Librarian of Congress James H. Billington’s petition for the resumption of “the awarding of prizes by the Library of Congress in recognition of exceptionally meritorious achievements in the life of the mind, including works in biography, history, fiction, poetry and drama, as requested by the Librarian.” The Bobbitt Prize was the first literary prize to be offered and administered by the Library after the congressional approval took effect.
The Librarian of Congress, the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a publisher appointed by the Academy of American Poets and a literary critic appointed by the Bobbitt family will select a three-member prize jury.