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Distributed September 28, 2004
Contact Mary Jo Curtis

Poet C.D. Wright named 2004 MacArthur Fellow

C.D. Wright, poet and professor of English at Brown University, has been named a MacArthur Fellow for 2004 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Wright will receive $500,000 in “no strings attached support” during the next five years.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Poet C.D. Wright, the Israel J. Kapstein Professor of English at Brown University, has been named a MacArthur Fellow for 2004 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Wright is one of 23 fellows selected this year; each will receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” support during the next five years.


MacArthur Fellow for 2004
C.D. Wright, poet and professor of English, will receive support from the MacArthur Foundation for the next five years. The fellowship, one of 23 given this year, is intended to underscore the importance of the creative individual in society.
Photo: MacArthur Foundation

“My dream has always been to have the ability to do projects with other people,” said Wright of the five-year grant. “I know that’s not the usual condition of the poet, but I like ensembles, and I like public work. This definitely provides that kind of opportunity.”

Wright learned of her selection through a phone call from the Foundation last week. “The call can be life-changing, coming as it does out of the blue and offering highly creative women and men the gift of time and the unfettered opportunity to explore, create and contribute,” said Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation.

The MacArthur Fellows Program underscores the importance of the creative individual in society. Fellows are selected for their originality, creativity and the potential to do more in the future. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. This year’s group includes a ragtime pianist, a high school debating coach, a farmer and a marine roboticist, as well as Wright and others.

Candidates are nominated, evaluated and selected through a rigorous and confidential process; no one may apply for the awards, nor are any interviews conducted. Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight and potential

“It is exciting, especially in these times, to see such a collection of decidedly bold and risk-taking people who are changing our landscape and advancing our possibilities,” said Daniel J. Socolow, director of the MacArthur Fellows Program. “What they share in common is that each is highly focused, tenacious and creative. As in past years, these fellows are not only very good at what they do, their work is also important and distinctively original.”


C.D. Wright

The author of 10 volumes of poetry and an editor for Lost Roads Publishers, C.D. Wright is an accomplished writer. She was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, the daughter of a judge and a court reporter. She received a B.A. in 1971 from the University of Memphis and an M.F.A. in 1976 from the University of Arkansas. She was a lecturer in poetry at San Francisco State University from 1979 to 1981 and joined the Brown faculty in 1983. She has held visiting faculty positions at the Burren School of Art in Ireland (1996), the University of Iowa (1997) and the University of Cincinnati (2004). Her many published works include One Big Self (2003), Steal Away (2001), Deepstep Come Shining (1998) and Tremble (1996), among others, and her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies. Her latest poetry book, Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil, is due to be published in spring 2005 by Copper Canyon Press.

In announcing Wright’s selection, the MacArthur Foundation made the following comment on her work:

“No single description adequately captures Wright’s work; she is an experimental writer, a Southern writer and a socially committed writer, yet she continuously reinvents herself with each new volume. The trajectory and growth of her achievements as a poet can be seen in Steal Away, a selection of her verse over the last 20 years. In this volume, Wright experiments with stanza, syntax and line and writes in a variety of styles – prose poems, short lyrics and prose narratives. The poems themselves move from the personal to those from One Big Self, where the personae originate from Wright’s conversations with prisoners in the Louisiana state prison system.

“Despite her frequent use of experimental structures, her mode of expression is clear and accessible, and her poetry is rooted in the landscape and people of her childhood in Arkansas, often engaging issues of social importance. Wright is a prolific poet whose wide-ranging oeuvre includes collaborative projects with the photographer Deborah Luster and the composition and publication of two state literary maps: one of her native state of Arkansas, the other of her adopted state, Rhode Island, where she teaches and resides.”

Wright said she has two projects in the early planning stages that will be facilitated by her fellowship. She is developing one of the two in collaboration with Luster. An exhibition of their last collaboration, One Big Self, will be presented at the David Winton Bell Gallery this spring.

Although there is no fixed number of fellows, the Foundation typically selects 20 to 30 each year. Between June of 1981 and October of 2003, the Foundation named 659 fellows, including seven current or former Brown faculty:

  • 1993 – John Edgar Wideman, Asa Messer Professor and professor of Africana studies and English;
  • 1991 – Mari Jo Buhle, William R. Kenan Jr. University Professor and professor of American civilization and of history;
  • 1987 – David Mumford, University Professor and professor of applied mathematics;
  • 1984 – Shirley Brice Heath, Professor-at-Large;
  • 1981 – John Imbrie, Henry L. Doherty Professor Emeritus of Oceanography;
  • 1981 – Robert W. Kates, University Professor and director of the World Hunger Program emeritus;
  • 1981 – David Pingree, University Professor and professor of the history of mathematics and of classics.

The MacArthur Foundation

As one of the nation’s largest private philanthropic foundations, the MacArthur Foundation has awarded more than $3 billion in grants since it began operations in 1978, and today has assets of approximately $4 billion. Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of new knowledge, nourishes individual creativity, strengthens institutions, participates in the formation of effective policy and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media. Annual grant-making totals approximately $175 million.

The Foundation is named for John D. MacArthur (1897-1978), who developed and owned Bankers Life and Casualty Company and other businesses, as well as considerable property in Florida and New York. His wife Catherine (1909-1981) held positions in many of these companies and served as a director of the Foundation.


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