Each year we invite some of the most-respected names in contemporary literature to speak, in addition to our accepted undergraduate speakers.
W.S. MerwinIn a career spanning five decades, W.S. Merwin, poet, translator, and environ- mental activist, has become one of the most widely read—and imitated—poets in America. The son of a Presbyterian minister, for whom he began writing hymns at the age of five, Merwin went to Europe as a young man and developed a love of languages that led to work as a literary translator. W.S. Merwin’s recent poetry is perhaps his most personal, arising from his deeply held beliefs. He is not only a profoundly anti–imperialist, pacifist, and environmentalist, but is also possessed by an intimate feeling for landscape and language and the ways in which land and language interflow. His latest poems are densely imagistic and full of an intimate awareness of the natural world. In 1999, W.S. Merwin was named Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress for a jointly–held position along with poets Rita Dove and Louise Glück. He has been honored as laureate of the Struga Poetry Evenings Festival in Macedonia, receiving the international poetry award, the Golden Wreath Award. In the fall of 2004, Merwin received the 2004 Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award. Included in his numerous awards are the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the Tanning Prize, the Bollingen Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In July 2010, William Merwin was appointed United States Poet Laureate by the Librarian of Congress. He lives, writes, and gardens in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. He has spent the last 30 years planting 19 acres with over 800 spe- cies of palm, creating a sustainable forest— the property has recently been turned into a conservancy, the Merwin Conservancy.
Alexandra FullerAlexandra Fuller has written three books of non–fiction. Her debut book, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood (Random House, 2001), was a New York Times Notable Book for 2002, the 2002 Booksense Best Non–fiction book, a finalist for the Guardian’s First Book Award and the winner of the 2002 Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. Her 2004 Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier (Pen- guin Press) won the Ulysses Prize for Art of Reportage. Her latest book is The Legend of Colton H. Bryant (May, 2008 by Penguin Press). Fuller was educated in Zimbabwe until she was eighteen, first at a small government boarding school near the family’s farm in the country’s eastern mountains and then at a private girls–only boarding school in Harare. Watching the celebratory atmosphere in the aftermath of independence gradually—and then precipitously—turn into the horror of Mugabe’s one–man attempt to take a country to the grave with him has also informed Fuller’s work. The early experience of being always close to death and to the reality of death has made Fuller’s work ring with a kind of urgent honesty, “I never felt immortal,” she explained in a 2002 interview, but “always a breath away from dying, and that gives [a person] supernatural clarity.” But that realization of life’s swiftness has also given Fuller’s words a startling, sometimes mordant, humor that is the key behind the success of her work.
Robert Hodgson Van WagonerRobert Hodgson Van Wagoner’s first novel, Dancing Naked, was awarded the Utah Center for the Book’s Utah Book Award and the Utah Arts Council’s Publication Prize. His short stories have appeared in literary periodicals, magazines, and anthologies, including “The Best of Writers at Work” and “In Our Lovely Deseret,” and have been selected for various awards, including Carolina Quarterly’s Charles B. Wood Award for Distinguished Writing; Shenandoah’s Jeanne Charpiot Goodheart Award for Fiction; Sunstone’s Brookie and D.K. Brown Memorial Fiction Award, and Weber Studies’ Dr. O. Marvin Lewis Award for Best Fiction, 1994–1997. Van Wagoner’s two forthcoming novels, both literary thrillers, are highly influenced by the traditions and landscapes unique to their settings: Cautionary Tales in Ogden, Utah, and Come the Stygian Night in the rural foothills of Washington’s North Cascades, on the banks of the mighty Skagit River. He and his family live in Washington State.
“The temperature had dropped since he’d arrived at the station in downtown Ogden. The chill, always deeper during the pre-dawn hours, exerted itself. The cold air felt good.” Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, CAUTIONARY TALES