Claremont Graduate University announced Wednesday that Afaa Michael Weaver is the recipient of the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his collection "The Government of Nature." The award, one of the nation's most substantial poetry prizes, is given annually to a midcareer poet.
Weaver was born in Baltimore, the eldest of five children of a beautician mother and steelworker father. He grew up a big reader and started college, then dropped out in 1970. That was the year his girlfriend got pregnant, they married, and lost their son at 11 months. A daughter was born in 1973, and for 15 years Weaver worked in Baltimore factories while being a part of the Baltimore literary scene. He launched a small press and a literary magazine.
In 1985, he got a national arts fellowship, went to Brown to get his MFA, and then entered the academy. He was a professor at Rutgers, earned a Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan, and was the first African American poet in residence at Bucknell University. He currently teaches at Simmons College in Boston.
"My license to be a poet is one I inherited from black and poor people who built cultures out of a faith in struggle and hope," Weaver writes on his website.
"The Kingsley Tufts Award is one of the most prestigious prizes a poet can win, and I'm delighted to see it go to Afaa," said the poetry prize's chief judge, Chase Twichell. "He essentially invented himself from whole cloth as a poet. It's truly remarkable."
Kingsley Tufts himself was a man who loved poetry and practiced it on the side, when not busy with his work as an executive with the Los Angeles Shipyard. The prize was established more than two decades ago by his widow, Kate Tufts.
There is also a poetry prize named for her: the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, founded in 1993. The award is a $10,000 prize given for a first book by a poet of genuine promise. This year's winner was also announced Wednesday: Yona Harvey for "Hemming the Water."
The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and Kate Tufts Discovery Award will be presented at Claremont Graduate University on April 10.
[For the record 1:40 p.m. PDT March 12: An earlier version of this post reported that the award presentation ceremony would be held at Claremont McKenna College. The ceremony will be held at Claremont Graduate University.]