Keillor to select Swenson poetry award winner

By By DAN SMITH

Published: Friday, September 10, 2010

Updated: Friday, September 10, 2010

Famed National Public Radio host and "one of the most important American writers of the era," Garrison Keillor, has been selected to judge the 2011 May Swenson Poetry Award Competition, said Michael Spooner, director of Utah State University Press.

    "Garrison Keillor is a unique figure in American letters, because he has established himself in a genre essentially of his own making, yet he is also distinguished in so many conventional genres, like novels, essays, satire and screenwriting," Spooner said.

    He said Keillor was asked to judge the upcoming competition because he has featured the writings of several past winners on his radio show "Writer's Almanac." Spooner said the judges of this contest are always "first-tier figures in American letters."

    The May Swenson Poetry Award Competition began 15 years ago as a way to help poetry recognition, as well as keep the flame alive for May Swenson, Spooner said. He said Ken Brewer, former Utah State poetry professor and poet laureate, strongly urged him to start a contest like this to contribute to the need for poetry recognition.

    Swenson was born in Logan and graduated from USU in the class of 1939. She later taught poetry as the poet-in-residence at a variety of schools, including Utah State.

    Swenson made many contributions to both academia and the poetry community, said Corey Clawson, a staff assistant in the Utah State English department.

    The competition is open to anyone, with no restrictions on content or form. Manuscripts should be 50 to 100 pages long. Hundreds of entries from all over the country are expected by the Sept. 30 deadline, Spooner said, and Utah State students are encouraged to compete.

    After the initial entries are read by a panel of poets and poetry teachers, the 25 to 30 finalists' manuscripts will be sent to Keillor for judging, Spooner said.

Spooner said asking Keillor to be the judge for this contest seemed like the right thing, likening him to modern-day version of Mark Twain. Past judges have included Billy Collins, a former National Poet Laureate, Grace Schulman, editor for "The Nation," and Harold Bloom, a Yale humanities professor.

    Keillor is the host of two radio shows that air in syndication on National Public Radio. "Writer's Almanac" is a platform on which Keillor promotes poetry and letters from a wide variety of contemporary writers.

    On his other show, "A Prairie Home Companion," Keillor is known for emulating the old-time feel of classic radio shows. The show incorporates comic sketches, fabricated sponsors and advertisements, and other outrageous antics, said Ryan Monk, graduate instructor in the English department.

    "He's just so wholesome and absurd, it hurts ... in a good way, I mean that. It's one of the few things my dad and I can listen to and both find humor in," he said. "His cunning wit and versatility make him popular amongst a wide variety of audiences, as he appeals to multiple generations."

    Keillor was recently in Salt Lake City as part of a tour. Along with entertainment, he has also written several books, and is known for newspaper columns and magazine articles in many domestic and international publications.

    Spooner said the finalists to be sent to Keillow will be chosen mid-December. After he reads the finalists' works, he will select a winner who will be announced mid-January. After the winning manuscript is chosen, Keillor will write the publication's forward, a tradition and an honor bestowed upon winners by the judges, he said.

    The winner will receive a published copy of their book, which is extended in return for the $25 entry fee. The winner will also receive $1000 and any royalties generated by the publication. The Utah State University Press usually only publishes academic journals.

    "He's not a poet, or a critic, but because of his commitment to poetry and his massive, devoted audience, he has promoted it perhaps with more impact than anyone else," he said.

  – dan.whitney.smith@aggiemail.usu.edu

 

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