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English professor receives prestigious award from American Academy of Arts and Letters

April 21, 2010

Jemeli Tanui
(315) 443-5172

Bruce Smith, professor of English in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, has been named a recipient of a 2010 literature award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

smithSmith is one of 16 writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry to receive the Academy’s 2010 prizes, totaling $147,500. Smith’s category, literature, is given to honor exceptional accomplishments in any genre and comes with a $7,500 prize. The academy’s 250 members nominate candidates for the awards, and a rotating committee of writers selects winners each year. This year’s committee members were Philip Levine, Romulus Linney, Rosanna Warren and Joy Williams.

The awards will be presented to the 16 writers at the academy’s annual ceremonial event taking place in May.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters was established in 1898 to foster, assist and sustain an interest in literature, music and the fine arts. Election to the academy is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in this country. Founding members include William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox, Daniel Chester French, Childe Hassam, Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Vedder and Woodrow Wilson.

The academy is currently composed of 250 of America’s leading voices in the fields of art, architecture, literature and music. The academy presents exhibitions of art, architecture, manuscripts and readings, and performances of new musicals throughout the year.

“Although I believe, like Groucho Marx, that I never wanted to belong to a club that would have me as a member, I’m happy to be added to the list of writers in the American Academy of Arts and Letters whose lives and work have been exemplary to me,” says Smith. “Here at Syracuse, I am also part of a community of writers that includes poets Michael Burkard, Brooks Haxton, Chris Kennedy, Sarah Coleman Harwell and fiction writers Dana Spiotta, George Saunders and Arthur Flowers. Most significant to me is to have a place around the fire with the rest of the tribe.”

Smith was born and raised in Philadelphia. He attended Bucknell University, where he stayed to earn a master’s degree in English and work at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa. Before coming to Syracuse University in 2002, Smith taught at Tufts, Boston and Harvard universities, Portland State University, Lewis & Clark College and the University of Alabama. In fall 2009, Smith was a visiting professor at the writing program at the University of Houston.

Smith has written five books of poems: “The Common Wages” (Sheep Meadow, 1983); “Silver and Information” (National Poetry Series, selected by Hayden Carruth, 1985); “Mercy Seat” (University of Chicago Press, 1994); “The Other Lover” (University of Chicago Press, 2000), which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; and, most recently, “Songs for Two Voices” (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Poems in this collection have appeared in The Best American Poetry 2003 and 2004.

Poems from his new manuscript, “Devotions,” have appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Partisan Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry and The American Poetry Review, and were included in the Best of the Small Presses anthology for 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Smith’s essays and reviews have appeared in Harvard Review, Boston Review and Newsday. He has been a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center and was a winner of the Discovery/The Nation prize. In 2000, he was a Guggenheim fellow. He has twice been a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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