Thursday, March 12, 2009
A FIRST: Juan Felipe Herrera/August Kleinzahler
I just learned that Juan Felipe Herrera and August Kleinzahler are sharing the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. This is the second time Auggie's been nominated. He was a finalist for Earthquake Weather (Moyer Bell) back in 1989, I believe, before he was as well known as he is today (at least in the poetry world). He's that rare breed in that he's forged his entire career outside of academia. I've been reading and admiring his work for over twenty years since I first heard him open for Thom Gunn at the Berkeley Arts Center in 1985.
It was around that time that I first got acquainted with Juan Felipe Herrera's work, as well. My favorite book from those years was Facegames. He also, around that time, graciously agreed to read for a benefit for the Berkeley Poetry Review (BPR) in the East Bay, and was always generous (as was AK) about giving the BPR work to publish. Come to think of it, AK also read for a BPR benefit in San Francisco at Modern Times Bookstore on Valencia Street---alongside Michael Palmer and Kim Addonizio. Those were great years.
In short, it's such a pleasure to see these two poets win an award---together. It feels right; they've both been, in their particular ways, outsiders.
Someone correct me if I'm wrong: This is the first time a Latino/a poet has won a national award of this stature (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award being the other two).
Thanks to Rich Yanez for alerting me of this news less than an hour ago!