June 05

From the desk of Mary K. Stillwell


Mary StillwellMary K. Stillwell is the author of the first-ever biography of Ted Kooser, available this September. Below she writes about Kooser receiving the Mark Twain Award. 

Ted Kooser, Nebraska’s Pulitzer Prize-winning former U.S.
poet laureate, traveled to Michigan State in
early May 2013 to receive the prestigious Mark Twain Award from the Society for
the Study of Midwestern Literature.
I was pleased to be in the attendance as
Jeffrey Hotz, associate professor of English, East Stroudsburg University,
presented the award at a special luncheon held in conjunction with the group’s
annual conference.  Hotz noted that
Kooser’s career, “defined by critical acclaim, popular appreciation, and
admiration from fellow poets,” has been based on a trifecta of success:
“writing poems of the highest order, valuing his readers, and doing his best to
make reading poetry part of Americans’ everyday lives.”

Kooser at SSML luncheon

Ted Kooser, following the presentation of the Mark Twain Award at the SSML Luncheon, May 11, 2013. (Photograph by Julie Knoeller, Purdue University.)

Hotz went on to say that “Kooser’s career has been
inspiring.” In addition to two prose works, Local
Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps
 
and Lights on a Ground of Darkness, both published by the University of
Nebraska Press, Kooser is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, a handbook
for writing poetry
, a graphic novel, and two children’s books. In all of his
work, Hotz observed, Kooser “writes about small [Midwestern] communities … [with]
a sense of genuine connection… The sense and dignity of people’s lives, whether
suffering or in moments of joy and pleasure, remain an overarching them of his
work.”

Given annually since 1980, the Mark Twain Award recognizes
an outstanding body of creative work by a Midwestern resident. Recent winners
have included Louis Erdrich, Jane Hamilton, and Scott Russell Sanders.

The luncheon was followed by a Conversation with Ted Kooser,
moderated by Hotz and attended by conference attendees and students.  The program opened with a showing of Dan
Butler’s film adaptation of Kooser’s poem “Pearl.” Then the poet answered
questions, talked about his career as a writer, and read from his work.

Ted at SSML reading photo by Peggy

Ted Kooser reading from his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, Delights & Shadows. (Photograph by Margaret Rozga, Professor of English Emerita, University of Wisconsin Waukesha.)

Earlier in the day, I participated in a conference session
highlighting current Kooser criticism in a variety of genres. Hotz, a longtime
admirer of the poet’s work, spoke on “Environmental Ethics and Community Vision
in Ted Kooser’s Children’s Fiction.”
Other scholars included Phillip Howerton of Missouri State University in
West Plains, who spoke on “The Poetry of Ted Kooser and the Politics of
Diminishment,” and Margaret Rozga of University of Wisconsin at Waukesha, who
gave a personal account titled “Repairing Poems with Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual.”  An expanded version of my paper, “Cosmic
Consciousness and the Education of Ted Kooser,” which focuses on the poet’s
early years at the University of Nebraska and his study with poet and Prairie Schooner editor Karl Shapiro,
will appear in The Life and Poetry of Ted
Kooser
,
to be published this September by UNP. What a good day for poetry!

-Mary K. Stillwell