April 21, 2006 — Claudia Emerson, a 1979 graduate of the University of Virginia, was named the recipient of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. The prize, which was announced on Monday, April 17, comes with a $10,000 cash award.
Previous winners have included some of the most distinguished voices in American poetry, among them Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Levine and U.Va. professors Rita Dove (1987) and Charles Wright (1998).
Emerson was awarded the prize for her collection, “Late Wife,” which uses a series of unsent letters to chronicle the breakup of the author’s first marriage and the development of her relationship with her current husband. Louisiana State University Press, which published “Late Wife” and nominated it for the prize, called the book “both an elegy and a celebration of the rich present informed by a complex past.”
“I was completely stunned by the news,” Emerson said of winning the prize. “Stunned, but thrilled and honored.”
She has published two other collections, “Pharaoh, Pharaoh,” and “Pinion: An Elegy.” Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Poetry, The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah and others.
Emerson recalled some of the professors who inspired her during her years at U.Va., where she majored in English. “I adored David Levin, Charles Vandersee and folklore classes with Chuck Purdue — an independent study with him actually turned years later into my second book!”
Emerson, who later received her M.F.A. at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is currently associate professor of English at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. She has also taught at Washington and Lee University, Danville Community College and Randolph-Macon Women’s College.
In 1991, Emerson won the Associated Writing Program’s Intro Award and the Academy of American Poets Prize. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and twice received the Virginia Commission for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship in Poetry. In 2005, the Library of Congress awarded her a Witter Bynner Fellowship, which carries a $10,000 prize. In 2003, she won the Mary Washington College Alumni Association Outstanding Young Faculty Award.
The jury for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry included Mary Karr, Michael Harper and Pulitzer Prize-winner Ted Kooser. The prizes will be awarded at Columbia University on May 22.