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Friday, June 09, 2023
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UB English Professor Wins Coveted Pulitzer

When the 2002 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday, a UB professor's name was among them. Carl Dennis, a UB English professor, was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Dennis received the award for his eighth work, a collection of over 40 poems titled Practical Gods that was published last fall by Penguin Books.

"I think the Pulitzer confirms the national recognition of the history of creative writing at UB," said Joseph Conte, interim chair of the English department.

The Pulitzer, one of the nation's highest honors for the arts, carries a cash prize of $7,500 and makes Dennis the first UB faculty member ever to win the coveted award. UB has produced Pulitzer prize winners before: Tom Toles, a UB graduate and former Spectrum staffer, earned the prize for his work as editorial cartoonist at the Buffalo News.

Dennis could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Columbia University President George Rupp announced the winners Monday afternoon. Unlike other award announcements, Pulitzer finalists and winners are not notified ahead of time, according to Caroline Ladhani, a public affairs officer for the university.

Dennis was informed of his award by an Associated Press reporter, who called him Monday, according to an article in Tuesday's Buffalo News.

The News reported that Dennis has been contacted by a variety of media outlets, including PBS's "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," since the announcement.

Diane Christian, a colleague of Dennis' within the English department, called the collection "fun, smart and humanly touching."

"It reveals human desires, foibles and is self-questioning in a really powerful way," Christian said. "There's a moral inquiry in all of these poems - what should you do with your life, what does it mean to be a good person?"

In "Progressive Health," one of the poems in the winning collection, a man is asked to donate his organs before his death:

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"Now we'd like to give you the opportunity/ To step out far in front of the other donors/ By acting a little sooner than you expected ."

Christian, who took a job offer at UB rather than Berkley in the late '70s because of its "celebrated" English department, said the poem is, in some ways, "funny, macabre and gross," but that in raising questions of philosophical self-examination, the poem is also "discreet, delicate and touching."

"Dennis developed a great facility in telling stories or parables in tightly constructed and well-conceived lines, which give him ample opportunity for multiple meanings in clear, simplistic statements," said Robert Bertholf, curator of the university's Poetry/Rare Books Collection.

Dennis won the 2000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which, with a purse of $100,000, carries one of the largest monetary rewards in the United States.

"The Pulitzer tends to be the most well-regarded [award] in terms of the popular press," Conte said. "It's a significant prize that confirms the respectability of the department and its commitment to poetry and the careers we've supported for over 30 years."

Dennis' Pulitzer award comes on the heels of several recent prominent awards bestowed upon other members in the English department.

"UB English professors, in the last few years, have received just about every major poetry award in the nation," said Bruce Jackson, a professor in the department.

Jackson pointed to Robert Creeley, who has been a longtime muscle in the department and who won - among many other honors - the prestigious 2001 Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, and to Susan Howe, who was initiated to the Academy of American Poets in 2000.

"The city of Buffalo needs to be patted on the head for being a city of poets," said Michael Basinski, associate curator of the Poetry/Rare Books Collection.

Dennis' entire collection of poetry is currently on exhibition in the Poetry/Rare Books Collection, located on the fourth floor of Capen Hall, which also houses collections of the works of other prominent faculty members.



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