U.Va. English Professor Lisa Russ Spaar Receives State's Outstanding Faculty Award

January 27, 2010 — For almost 15 years, students in University of Virginia English professor Lisa Russ Spaar's classes have been learning how to write and read poetry, about printmaking their poems, about the poetics of childhood, and about contemporary lyric poetry, among other topics.

Spaar is one of 12 teachers from Virginia's public and private colleges and universities, who have received a 2010 Outstanding Faculty Award, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Dominion energy company, announced today.

The winners will be recognized for their excellence in teaching, research, knowledge integration and public service during a Feb. 18 ceremony at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

Spaar said she was surprised and honored when she got the phone call about the award.

"I don't deserve to be called 'outstanding faculty' any more than any other faculty member at U.Va. I'm one of a legion of fine teachers," she said.

Cynthia Wall, who chairs the English department, did not entirely agree.

"Lisa Russ Spaar has risen from part-time status as a lecturer to a full professor in our department because of her poetic gifts, her legendary teaching, and her tireless contributions to the English Department and the University," she said. "She has become one of our most valued and most beloved faculty.

"She is at once one of the most demanding and one of the most adored teachers in a department bursting with excellent teachers, generating an extraordinary loyalty among her students. And around the University, as well as around the country, Lisa Spaar works with indefatigable charm to create a community of scholars and poets."

Spaar, who earned her master of fine arts in poetry writing and bachelor's degrees from U.Va., is the founder and director of the 10-year-old Area Program in Poetry Writing for undergraduates in the English department's creative writing program. She previously taught at James Madison University and North Texas State University.

She has published three collections of poetry: "Satin Cash," "Blue Venus" and "Glass Town." In addition, she has edited two anthologies, "All That Mighty Heart: London Poems" (from University of Virginia Press) and "Acquainted With the Night: Insomnia Poems." Her work was included in "Best American Poetry 2008."

She feels fortunate that her art is part of her teaching, she said. "Teaching allows me to explore reading that inspires me with my students, with a group of young people. I treasure the way the students engage with the world through language," said Spaar, who also won a 2009 All-University Teaching Award. She learns from students and their writing, too, she said.

Spaar has won prizes and praise for her poetry. This past fall, she won the 2009 Library of Virginia Literary Award for poetry, as well as a 2009-10 Guggenheim Fellowship. Spaar also won the Emily Clark Balch Award from the Virginia Quarterly Review in 2001 and the Rona Jaffe Award for Emerging Women Writers in 2000.

This year marks the 24th anniversary of the state's awards program.

A peer review committee comprising former outstanding faculty award recipients and other members of the higher education community initially evaluated this year's 117 applicants. Then a final committee of Virginia community and academic leaders selected the finalists whose accomplishments strongly reflect the missions of their respective institutions. Since the first awards ceremony in 1987, a total of 280 Virginia faculty members have received this honor, including 28 from U.Va.

Each of the 12 recipients will receive an engraved award and a $5,000 check underwritten by the Dominion Foundation. SCHEV administers the Outstanding Faculty Awards program, which has been funded by a grant from the Dominion Foundation since 2005.

SCHEV is the commonwealth's coordinating body for Virginia's system of higher education. The agency provides policy guidance and budget recommendations to the governor and General Assembly, and is a resource for information on higher education issues and Virginia colleges and universities. Photos and information about each of this year's recipients can be found on the SCHEV Web site.

"The council is proud to once again partner with Dominion to honor these extraordinary educators," said Daniel J. LaVista, SCHEV's executive director. "Their inspiring scholarship, research and community service have helped Virginia's colleges and universities continue their ascendancy among the finest higher education institutions in the nation."

The Dominion Foundation donates more than $17 million annually to nonprofit organizations in states where the company does business.

— By Anne Bromley