UC Riverside Alumnus Wins 2017 National Book Award for Poetry

Frank Bidart, who graduated from UCR in 1962, received the honor for his book “Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016”

Frank Bidart and "Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016"

UCR alumnus Frank Bidart, who graduated in 1962, has taken home the 2017 National Book Award in Poetry for his career-spanning retrospective “Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016.”

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu)Frank Bidart ’62, who completed his undergraduate education at the University of California, Riverside, has won the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry. Bidart received the honor for his career-spanning retrospective “Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016” during a New York City ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

Bidart’s nomination for the award — widely considered one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the country — was announced in September along with those of nine additional poets. Four of his previous poetry collections have earned nominations in the past: “Desire,” in 1997; “Star Dust,” in 2005; “Watching the Spring Festival,” in 2008; and “Metaphysical Dog,” in 2013.

Born in Bakersfield in 1939, Bidart said he first became interested in literature during his time at UCR, which he entered in 1957. In an interview with fellow poet Mark Halliday for a 1983 issue of the literary magazine Ploughshares, Bidart described his experience as an English major at UCR:

“The teacher I was closest to at Riverside was Tom Edwards,” Bidart said. “His sophomore survey course, ‘The English Literary Tradition,’ was the place that I feel I first learned how to pay attention to the details of a poem, to how it is made. The importance of ‘voice’ and ‘tone of voice’ was at the heart of what I learned.”

After graduating from UCR in 1962, Bidart went on to graduate school at Harvard University. Ten years later, he accepted a faculty position at Wellesley College, where he continues to teach as a professor of English. He published his first collection of poems, “The Golden State,” in 1973.

Bidart joins a roster of National Book Award in Poetry recipients that includes W.H. Auden, Frank O’Hara, and Allen Ginsberg, among other illustrious talents.

Held in 1950, the first installment of the annual National Book Awards honored William Carlos Williams, Nelson Algren, and Ralph L. Rusk, all of whom accepted their awards from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

To be eligible for the poetry award, a book must be written by an American author and submitted by an American publisher. A rotating panel of five expert judges — some published writers and previous National Book Award winners — combs through each year’s selection of several hundred submissions, gradually narrowing the pool to just 10 entrants: the longlist.

In October, the 2017 poetry longlist was further trimmed to five finalists, each of whom received $1,000 and a medal. Bidart, however, went home with a grand prize of $10,000 and a bronze sculpture commemorating the occasion.

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