February 2, 2009 (REVISED February 3, 2009) Poet Laureate Chooses Christina Davis and Mary Szybist for 12th Annual Witter Bynner Award and Reading, Feb. 26

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Poet Laureate Kay Ryan has chosen two gifted voices in poetry, Christina Davis and Mary Szybist, for the 2009 Witter Bynner Fellowships, and will introduce the poets on Feb. 26 at the Library of Congress.

Davis, from Boston, and Szybist, from Portland, Ore., will read their poems at 6:45 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 26, in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the Library's James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. 20540. The event is free and open to the public; tickets are not required.

Davis and Szybist each will receive a $10,000 fellowship, provided by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry in conjunction with the Library of Congress. This is the 12th year the fellowships have been awarded.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, “These fellowships—to poets whose distinctive talents and craftsmanship merit wider recognition—provide a wonderful way for the Laureate, the Library and the Witter Bynner Foundation to encourage poets and poetry.”

Commenting on her selections, Ryan said, “Christina Davis knows when not to know, but simply transmit the compelling illogic of what we really feel. Her poems are filled with room for amazement.”

Ryan also said, “Mary Szybist's lovely musical touch is light and exact enough to catch the weight and grind of love. This is a hard paradox to master as she does.”

Davis is the author of “Forth A Raven” (2006). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Jubilat, New Republic, Pleiades, Paris Review and other publications. She is the recipient of residencies from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony and of several Pushcart Prize nominations. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Oxford, she is curator of poetry at the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University.

Szybist is an assistant professor of English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. She also has taught at Kenyon College, the University of Iowa, the Tennessee Governor’s School for Humanities, the University of Virginia’s Young Writers’ Workshop and West High School in Iowa City. She is the author of “Granted” (2003), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Szybist holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a teaching-writing fellow. She has been the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award.

The Witter Bynner fellowships are to be used to support the writing of poetry. Only two things are asked of the fellows: that they organize a reading in their hometown and participate in a reading and recording session at the Library of Congress. Applications are not taken for the fellowships; the Poet Laureate makes the selection.

The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry was incorporated in 1972 in New Mexico to provide grant support for programs in poetry through nonprofit organizations. Witter Bynner was an influential early-20th-century poet and translator of the Chinese classic “Tao Te Ching,” which he named “The Way of Life According to Laotzu.” He traveled with D.H. and Frieda Lawrence and proposed to Edna St. Vincent Millay (she accepted, but then they changed their minds). He worked at McClure's Magazine, where he published A.E. Housman for the first time in the United States, and was one of O. Henry's early fans.

Previous Witter Bynner fellows were Carol Muske-Dukes and Carl Phillips (1998), David Gewanter, Heather McHugh and Campbell McGrath (1999), and Naomi Shihab Nye and Joshua Weiner (2000), all appointed by Robert Pinsky; the late Tory Dent and Nick Flynn (2001), appointed by Stanley Kunitz; George Bilgere and Katia Kapovich (2002), and Major Jackson and Rebecca Wee (2003), appointed by Billy Collins; Dana Levin and Spencer Reece (2004), appointed by Louise Gluck; Claudia Emerson and Martin Walls (2005), and Joseph Stroud and Connie Wanek (2006), appointed by Ted Kooser; Laurie Lamon and David Tucker (2007), appointed by Donald Hall; and Matthew Thorburn and Monica Youn (2008), appointed by Charles Simic.

For further information on Witter Bynner fellowships and the poetry program at the Library of Congress, visit www.loc.gov/poetry/.

Photos of Davis and Szybist are available upon request.


PR 09-023
ISSN 0731-3527