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CGU fetes Kingsley, Kate Tufts award winners (updated)

A passionate love for poetry was the order of the day on Thursday, April 10 when the Claremont Graduate University presented the 2014 Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards.

The annual Kingsley Tufts award, which is awarded to a mid-career poet who has not yet reached the pinnacle of their success and carries a $100,000 purse, was awarded to Afaa Michael Weaver.

The prize comes on the heels of the release of Mr. Weaver’s 12th book of poetry, The Government of Nature. It explores the trauma of his childhood, including sexual abuse, and employs a “cartography and thematic structure drawn from Chinese spiritualism.”

Mr. Weaver’s work is influenced by his study of Daoism, his longtime practice of tai chi and time spent in a Chinese monastery, among other experiences. He keeps writing because he is compelled to do so, and because he truly feels poetry has an intrinsic value.

“Poetry does matter,” he said. “I think it’s an influential force in the national conscience.”

The Kate Tufts award is aimed at providing emotional and financial encouragement to a writer whose first book of poetry shows genuine promise. Yona Harvey, author of Hemming the Water, received the 2014 Kate Tufts award as well as a $10,000 prize.

Being a Kate Tufts winner is a remarkable honor, Ms. Harvey said.

“What a gift,” she said. “You just have to have faith that you will rise to the occasion. And you keep working.”

Coincidentally, the two poets share some significant history. Mr. Weaver is one of the founding faculty members at the Cave Canem organization, which strives to help further the success of African American poets. Ms. Harvey was a student at his first Cave Canem retreat.

Reunited for the Tufts awards, the two poets spent the day of the awards immersed in the world of words. First, they joined a panel to explore questions about the writing process and their own personal journeys as poets. Then, at 5 p.m., they joined a crowd gathered in Scripps College’s Balch Auditorium to be presented with accolades and, of course, those remarkably helpful checks.

Mr. Weaver, a professor at Simmons College in Boston, hopes to use his money to clear his teaching schedule a bit, allowing for more writing and greater balance. Ms. Harvey plans to attend a poetry retreat in rural Pennsylvania.

Each poet has already encountered a heightened level of recognition in the nearly month-long interval since they were officially named Tufts winners. Claremont Graduate University has also received unheard-of recognition, with the awarding of the prestigious prize being covered in media outlets ranging from the LA Times to the Baltimore Sun and from MSN news to NPR.

During the award ceremony, Mr. Weaver and Ms. Harvey took to the podium to read selections from their books. Their poems, which were simultaneously biographical and universal—and which exuded a notable musicality—received hushed attention followed by fervent applause.

After the ceremony, Mr. Weaver and Ms. Harvey convened at the CGU President’s House, which carries a distinct New Orleans flare. The celebration continued with attendees mingling in the darkening evening.

Guests enjoyed a salmon dinner, wine and a piece of rich chocolate cake. The poets had little time to enjoy the confection, because they were asked to read some more during dessert.

Full profiles on Mr. Weaver and Ms. Harvey will be featured in an upcoming edition of the COURIER.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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