Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Advises Students
Tim Pratt '11
November 04, 2010
“I just spent $150 at the Emerson bookstore on sweatshirts, sweatpants, and other memorabilia,” joked poet Claudia Emerson, referring to her shared last name with the College. “I want to wear this stuff back home in Virginia. This is the best name for any educational institution.”
With a few jokes thrown in here and there, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet presented some of her new poetry to an audience of Emerson students in the College’s Bright Family Screening Room. Afterward, she conducted a brief Q&A to help aspiring writers tackle the tough genre of poetry.
Emerson, who is a contributing editor to the literary magazine Shenandoah, has published four books of poetry, including the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning Late Wife. The collection of poems, which was inspired by true events in her life, explores a woman’s first marriage, her divorced and single years, and the experience of her new marriage to a husband whose first wife died from lung cancer. Her most recent book of poetry, Figure Studies (2008), showcases more observational poetry deriving from her memories and experiences.
“I just spent $150 at the Emerson bookstore on sweatshirts, sweatpants, and other memorabilia. I want to wear this stuff back home in Virginia. This is the best name for any educational institution.”
Emerson opened the reading with a new work in progress about the controversy over plagues of uranium that are affecting her hometown. The presentation continued with works from her published books, including a heart-wrenching poem detailing a dying wife’s X-rays, and more upbeat observational pieces describing a local “cat lady” and her reputation throughout the town. She said most of her work stems from daily observations of big and small events that have impacted her life.
After the reading, Emerson signed copies of her books and offered two bits of advice for writing extremely personal and observational poetry.
“First, always take notes and do your research because even though its personal and creative, it still needs to grounded in reality,” she said. “Secondly, write as though everyone you know is dead. You can’t worry about offending people when writing.”
Considered a master of poetry, Emerson teaches English at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Over the course of her day-long visit to Emerson College, the poet visited numerous classes to discuss her work and give students the opportunity to ask questions on poetic technique.
“I am so humbled to be here,” said Emerson. “I love being surrounded by such a creative community of aspiring young writers.”
As advances in technology spur changes in the sharing of the written word, Emerson’s dynamic writing community prepares students to succeed in this evolving landscape. Students explore literature, craft stories in workshop settings, follow the written word from inception to production through publishing courses, and intern at some of the country’s best publishing houses.