Orange Alert

SU poet Christopher Kennedy wins NEA fellowship

Professor uses grant to write about mother's struggle with Alzheimer's

Dec. 2, 2010, by Rob Enslin

Christopher Kennedy G’88, associate professor of English and director of the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, is the recipient of a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Syracuse poet says he will use the $25,000 purse to complete a large-scale work about his mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. 

“I am honored to receive this award,” says Kennedy, whose latest book, “Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death” (BOA Editions, 2007), won the prestigious the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award. “Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of people. I want this work to honor my mother’s life, while depicting the hardships and rewards of dealing with someone who has this disease.”

Kennedy is the author of three other full-length books of poetry: “Nietzsche’s Horse” (Mitki/Mitki Press, 2001); “Trouble With the Machine” (Low Fidelity Press, 2003); and “Ennui Prophet” (BOA Editions), slated for publication in 2011. He also has published a chapbook, as well as poems in Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, Slope, Mississippi Review, and New York Tyrant. 

Although his writing is difficult to categorize, Kennedy is generally regarded as a “prose poet”—one whose work “looks” like prose but reads like poetry. “Christopher Kennedy writes a landscape of periphery, in which everything is brilliantly askew, and the light of oddity is cast over the everyday,” says Alice Fulton, a MacArthur Award recipient and the Ann S. Bowers Professor of English at Cornell University. “His poems—beautifully structured wayward fables—create profane and absurd substitutes for the sacred.”

Terrance Hayes, a National Book Award winner and professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, echoes these sentiments, adding that Kennedy has a tendency to underscore levity with gravity. “His poems swivel between the absurd and tragic, the mundane and enchanted, the rooted and the unsettled,” says Hayes. 

Kennedy is one of 42 published writers out of 1,063 applicants nationwide to receive a non-matching NEA grant, enabling him to write, research, travel, and engage in general career advancement. Since 1990, over half of these recipients—including the late Hayden Carruth, who taught poetry at SU for more than a decade—have gone on to win National Book awards, National Book Critics Circle awards, and Pulitzer prizes in fiction and poetry.

“I am in good company,” acknowledges Kennedy. “And I am very grateful for this fellowship.”

The M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing is part of the Department of English in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Media Contact

Rob Enslin