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In 1970, Dear John, Dear Coltrane, Harper's first collection of poems, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. It had been a submission for the University sponsored U.S. Poetry Prize. "Of the three judges for the Pittsburgh Prize in 1969...[Gwendolyn] Brooks liked my book enough to fight for it, and write me about it...When Gwendolyn Brooks writes to you, and you've never met her, praising your book, and fighting to see it published, it gives you a boost in confidence." (Callaloo, p. 787)

The book would bring him national recognition when nominated for the National Book Award. "Dear John, Dear Coltrane was a compilation of poems written over ten years: they were struggles with maintaining a kind of hold on discipline and on one's stylistic controls with voice, with idiom, with line, with imagery, with the consistency of diction...The title poem is a eulogy for a musician I loved greatly." (Arts in Society, p. 470)

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