The T. S. Eliot Prize
Winners Speak Out
Having long admired the quality of the books in T. S. Eliot Prize series, I threw my own manuscript into the fray and was fortunate enough to have my book chosen by Lynne McMahon in 2001, thus beginning my rich and rewarding experience with Truman State University Press. The Eliot prizes clearly follow no stylistic or ideological trends and the broad variety of their award-winners bespeaks the contest's fairness and integrity. Best of all, TSUP makes beautiful books—a pleasure to read, and a pleasure to hold in one’s hands.
Winning the first T. S. Eliot Prize was truly a blessing. Not only did it result in my first collection of poems getting published, but it also involved me with a wonderful press, which takes production design seriously, promotes its books, and keeps them in print. I feel very fortunate to be associated with a competition first approved by Valerie Eliot and which subsequently has had so many distinguished winners and judges.
Winning the prize was the attainment of a long-held goal: to publish my book of poems. I had been working on the manuscript for several years, and it was nothing less than thrilling to know that my work had been recognized as the prize winner, especially by the judge—C. D. Wright, a poet whose work I really liked and admired. Many of the poems had been published individually in journals, but to see them together as a collection was a completely different—and completely satisfying—experience. As a poet, the publication of this book is a tangible reminder that the second book is waiting to be written, and that it, too, will eventually go from pencil-on-paper to manuscript to book.
Where Horizons Go, a beautiful, typo-free volume whose appearance alone, inside and out, recommends and honors the poems. It was my first large prize and therefore got me more publicity than I had ever had before. It attracted the attention of other poets I respect and admire, and helped to create a readership for future books. Most important, the book appeals to ordinary readers—the people we want to reach—and is being used in college courses, reaching young people with some interest in writing, who are my favorite readers. I like the poems of T. S. Eliot, read them early in my writing life, and learned a lot from them. I felt it would be a triumph to win a contest named after such a poet.
I earned my MFA from a little-known program, and without this award and book I would not have been hired anywhere. I was about to leave academia for a corporate job in Philadelphia. I owe just about everything—everything—to TSUP and to Mary Oliver, who was the judge in 1999. I am now the head of undergraduate creative writing programs at Colorado State University.
The gorgeous, flawless book TSUP created has given me the pride of a parent for a first-born child. Winning the award has transformed my life in countless ways, personally and professionally. TSUP is a wonderful press, and the prize is one of the best in the country.