The Flame Magazine - Spring 2020

Page 12

In the News




Ravished by Words Ariana Reines and Tiana Clark win the 2020 Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards. Director Lori Anne Ferrell explains why it’s important to return every phone call. by Elizabeth Hoover

10 | Claremont Graduate University

n late February, a group of literary professionals, professors, and poetry lovers gathered at CGU President Len Jessup’s house to make two very special phone calls. They were there to notify the winners of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, two of the most prestigious annual prizes awarded to U.S. poets. The calls were made, and as the cheers subsided, Jessup turned to the prizes’ director, Lori Anne Ferrell, and remarked, “This is the best thing we do at CGU.” “I love being part of that electric feeling in that room,” said Ferrell, the John D. and Lillian Maguire Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities. “I love that I work for a place where 40 people will crowd into a room to toast someone who just won a poetry prize.” This sensation is all the more remarkable given that CGU doesn’t have a creative writing program. So how did such a vital writing prize end up here? “Simply put, we returned the call,” Ferrell explained. In 1991, Kate Tufts was looking for an institution to house a poetry prize in honor of her late husband, Kingsley, a successful business executive in Los Angeles and a poet with publications in a smattering of national journals. John Maguire, who was CGU’s president at the time, was the only person who got back to Tufts. Despite the lack of a creative writing program, Ferrell sees good reason for the prize being housed here. “Poetry is about attention,” Ferrell explained. “At Claremont, we’re about attending to people, and we’re small enough that we can do that.” Tufts established the prizes to, in her words, “give a poet a little breathing room and a little recognition.” The Kingsley award bestows $100,000 for the work of a poet in mid-career, while the Discovery award recognizes the work of a newly-published poet with $10,000. Intervening at these points in a writer’s career gives them crucial support to continue their work. Past winner Tom Sleigh told the award committee: “It’s a stepping stone; not a tombstone.” The prize means more than financial support. Because of its size, it brings attention to the work of all the finalists. It raises the visibility of poetry in general—something that Ferrell sees as particularly important at this contemporary moment. “Poetry is a carefully crafted mode of communication,” she said. “It reminds us that words matter.” Though Tufts provided guidelines for the judging panel—it had to include one editor of a national publication, for example—she was adamant that poets of every style and background

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