Fall Convocation to Feature Speaker Lisa Russ Spaar, Jefferson Awards

Lisa Russ Spaar headshot

English professor Lisa Russ Spaar has published seven books of poetry and four anthologies of poems. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

University of Virginia English professor Lisa Russ Spaar, a celebrated poet and beloved teacher, will give the keynote address at Fall Convocation, to be held Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. in the John Paul Jones Arena.

The annual ceremony awards Intermediate Honors to the top 20 percent of third-year undergraduate students who have finished at least 60 hours of coursework, and honors the recipients of the annual Thomas Jefferson Awards, the highest distinction of service and scholarship awarded by the University. Convocation also marks the beginning of UVA’s annual Family Weekend.

Spaar, the Horace W. Goldsmith NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor, joined the Creative Writing Program’s faculty in 1993 and directed the program from 1995 to 2006. She founded the undergraduate Area Program in Poetry Writing in 2000.

She received the Jefferson Scholars Foundation Faculty Award in 2013, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award in 2010 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009, among other honors. She was selected in 2016 as one of seven inaugural UVA Arts Fellows. In 2015, she was one of three national finalists for the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Excellence in Teaching, sponsored by Baylor University.

Devoted to students, Spaar has been a College Advising Fellow and continues to teach a College advising seminar, “Myths of Adolescence & Literary Imagination,” as well as poetry writing workshops and other courses for undergraduates and graduate students in the Master of Fine Arts program.

“Poetry more broadly and deeply is not simply verse,” she has said, “but a way of engaging actively and discerningly with the world/word connection and the attendant wonder, responsibilities, risks and mysteries involved in that connection.” 

Spaar has published seven books of poetry, including “Orexia,” which came out in February, “Vanitas, Rough” and “Satin Cash.” She is working on an upcoming fifth anthology, “‘more truly and more strange’: Contemporary American Self-Portrait Poems.” She began working on the latter a few years ago when first teaching a January term course, which she also teaches in the summer, “Selfies Old & New: Self-Portraiture in Visual Art & Poetry.”

Her other anthologies cover a range of topics: “Monticello in Mind: Fifty Contemporary Poems on Jefferson,” published by UVA Press last year; “The Hide-and-Seek Muse: Annotations of Contemporary Poetry”; “All That Mighty Heart: London Poems”; and “Acquainted With the Night: Insomnia Poems.”


Many of her poems have been published in journals such as Boston Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Slate and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Her essays and reviews have appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Spaar earned a B.A. from the University in 1978 and an M.F.A. in creative writing in poetry from UVA’s Creative Writing Program in 1982. In addition to teaching for almost 25 years on Grounds, she previously taught at James Madison University and the University of North Texas.

The Thomas Jefferson Awards, which will be announced during Fall Convocation, are given to members of the University community who have exemplified in character, work and influence the principles and ideals of Jefferson, and thus advanced the objectives for which he founded the University.

One award, sponsored since 1955 by the McConnell Foundation, recognizes excellence in service to the University. The other, established in 2009 by the Alumni Board of Trustees Endowment Fund, recognizes excellence in scholarship. Recipients must have been at the University for at least 15 years.

Doors to the arena will open at 12:30 p.m. To provide a safe environment for attendees, the University has implemented a clear bag policy and is utilizing metal detectors for Fall Convocation. These security enhancements mirror those used for recent events at Scott Stadium, the John Paul Jones Arena, Concert for Charlottesville and the Bicentennial Launch Celebration; information is available here.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

Office of University Communications