$100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize goes to Nathaniel Mackey

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The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for Lifetime Achievement will be awarded to Nathaniel Mackey, the Poetry Foundation announced Tuesday. The prize comes with an award of $100,000, making it (alongside the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award) one of the largest poetry prizes in the country.

Mackey’s many prior accolades include the 2006 National Book Award for his collection “Splay Anthem” (New Directions), a Guggenheim fellowship and a Whiting Writer’s Award.

Born in Miami, Mackey was raised in California. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Princeton in 1969 and a Ph.D. at Stanford in 1975.


For many years, Mackey has been at work on serial poems, ongoing works that continue beyond their book covers. The project includes the serial poems “Song of the Andoumboulou” and “Mu,” and epistolary novels collectively titled “From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate.”

“Seriality and ongoingness offer a break from assumptions of a bounded, self-sufficient work, accenting the fact that pieces are in fact pieces and thus dependent on one another, porous to one another, insisting on provisionality and evolving relations among parts,” Macket wrote in 2007.

Naming him as recipient of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, Poetry magazine editor Don Share said, “The poetry of Nathaniel Mackey continues an American bardic line that unfolds from Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” to H.D.’s “Trilogy” to Olson’s “The Maximus poems,” winds through the whole of Robert Duncan’s work and extends beyond all of these.... In his poems, but also in his genre-defying serial novel (which has no beginning or end) and in his multifaceted critical writing, Mackey’s words always go where music goes: a brilliant and major accomplishment.”

Mackey, who has also published several academic works, is now the Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke. Previously he was on the faculty at UC-Santa Cruz for more than three decades, and he began his teaching career with a three-year stint at USC in 1976.

The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize will be presented in Chicago on June 9.