Poet Jericho Brown, who holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Orleans, has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Brown earned the prestigious honor for his most recent poetry collection, “The Tradition,” published in 2019 by Copper Canyon Press.
“I cried. I think I screamed,” Brown said laughing. “It’s funny, the screams were intermittent. Like I would scream; then I would make a sandwich and I would scream again. Every once in a while just yelps. Intermittent hollers!”
The 2020 Pulitzer in Poetry is awarded for a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author and carries a $15,000 prize.
The Pulitzer Prize Board, which announced the award Monday, described Brown’s work as a “collection of masterful lyrics that combine delicacy with historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence.”
On Wednesday, two days after the news, his “yelps” had subsided, Brown said. However, he was still attempting to process winning the award. The stay-at-home orders and social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic has limited his outside celebrations, Brown said.
“I think everyone would have found out very quickly … that I had won a Pulitzer Prize,” Brown said. “I’m from Louisiana. I know how to celebrate a big win!”
Brown, who is an associate professor and the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., has authored three books. He graduated from UNO in 2002.
He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and the National Endowment for the Arts. Brown’s first book, “Please” (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, “The New Testament” (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. His third collection, “The Tradition,” won the Paterson Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
M.O. Walsh, director of UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop, has said that students bring their talent and vision to the program and he hopes the workshop provides the community and mentoring that helps them reach their goals.
“I’m so happy for him,” Walsh said. “So happy for our program.”
On Monday when he got word of Brown’s Pulitzer award, Walsh grabbed his bicycle and his two young children and they rode to UNO’s campus. They stopped in front of the Liberal Arts Building, Walsh said.
“You see that building I work in? That one you’ve been in a hundred times? That’s a place where Pulitzer Prizes begin,” Walsh said he told them.
His children, ages 11 and 7, didn’t fully grasp the import of a Pulitzer Prize, Walsh said. The words were meant mainly for him, Walsh said.
“It’s inspiring. So many good writers go through that building,” Walsh said. “I just stared at it. It was a great moment”.