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W&L's R.T. Smith Wins Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry

Washington and Lee University writer-in-residence R. T. Smith has won the 2013 Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry awarded each year to a poet with strong connections to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The award will be presented on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the 16th Annual Library of Virginia Awards Celebration Honoring Virginia Authors and Friends.

In addition to serving as writer-in-residence at W&L, Smith is editor of W&L’s literary journal “Shenandoah” and author of a dozen books of poetry.

The prize recognizes significant recent contribution to the art of poetry and is awarded on the basis of a range of achievement in the field of poetry.

“Rod represents the full range of what we look for in honoring a Virginia poet with the Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry,” said Don Selby, one of the four-member board of curators that awarded the prize.

“His most recent poetry collections ‘Messenger,’ ‘Outlaw Style’ — both honored with the Library of Virginia Poetry Prize — and this year’s ‘The Red Wolf: A Dream of Flannery O’Connor’ continue his long career of brilliant writing. And his distinguished editorship of ‘Shenandoah,’ one of our country’s crucial literary journals, is just one of many examples of the broader extent of his commitment to the art. This was an easy, happy choice for us.”

Smith said he was surprised and delighted to receive the prize, and “I thought it was so much better than finding a copperhead in the wood pile in the morning. I rejoiced and danced. They may say it was an easy decision but I’m sure it wasn’t. I’m sure there were at least a half dozen people who are all worthy and ready.”

Smith added that he was very glad that Carole Weinstein created a prize for poets, whom he described as being “among the tribe of creative writers considered obscure, if not rogue. Ask someone to name a living American poet and the reply would be ‘why do I need to?’ But ask someone to name a living American novelist and they will reel off the names.”

According to Smith, poetry has more recently retreated into the shadows although it has existed for much longer than prose writing. Every culture had its cultural epic poem such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, whereas novels only arrived in the late 18th century. “So the fact that poetry is being wheeled into the light a little bit through this prize is such a rewarding thing. And Carole Weinstein has done this in a generous way and it is absolutely commendable,” he said.

Smith is joining an impressive list of poets who have won the prize before him, such as Charles Wright, Claudia Emerson and Eleanor Ross Taylor, all major forces in American poetry.

“I can think of so many people the judges could have given the prize to other than me” said Smith, “and I would have said ‘that’s right, that’s the appropriate person.’ So I stand in the slightly awkward position of feeling like I’ve been bumped to the head of the line through no responsibility of my own, for which I thank the judges heartily. Maybe they looked at how old I am and decided that if they were going to give the prize to me they’d better hurry. We poets live a hard life.”

Elizabeth Seydel Morgan, another judge, said “I have been reading Rod Smith’s poetry for two decades and cheering for ‘Shenandoah’ under his editorship for almost as long.”

Smith observed that, in citing his editorship of “Shenandoah” (which won the Virginia Governor’s Award for the Arts in 2008), the judges were reminding everyone that the literary journal is important and should be read and thought about.” It is not a negligible factor that they took my editing of ‘Shenandoah’ into consideration. I’m thankful for the journal all the time and I’m glad to see that the judges are as well,” he said.

Smith is the former editor of “Southern Humanities Review,” as well as former Alumni Writer-in-Residence at Auburn University. His poetry has also been published in “Best American Poetry,” and his stories have appeared in “Best American Mystery Stories,” “The Pushcart Prize Anthology,” “New Stories from the South” and “Best American Short Stories,” as well as in three earlier collections, and his 2011 collection of stories, “Sherburne.” He has edited “Shenandoah” since 1995 and was named writer-in-residence in 2009.