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The Poetry and Literature Center of the Library of Congress

Witter Bynner Fellowships

The Witter Bynner Foundation is giving the Library a five-year gift in order to award two or more poets each year, chosen by the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in conjunction with the Library, and to encourage poets and poetry. The fellowships are to be used to support the writing of poetry. Only two things are asked of the fellows: that they organize a local poetry reading and that they participate in a poetry program at the Library of Congress.

Thus far all Fellows have been chosen by 1997-2000 Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. This is the third year of this special Fellowship; the 1998 Witter Bynner Fellows were Carol Muske and Carl Phillips; the 1999 Fellows were David Gewanter, Heather McHugh, and Campbell McGrath.

Photograph of Witter Bynner in 1917
Witter Bynner posing before a shrine in Japan. Hakone, 1917.

The 2000 Witter Bynner Fellows are Naomi Shihab Nye and Joshua Weiner. They appeared at the Library of Congress in “Poetry in America: A Library of Congress Bicentennial Celebration” on April 3 and 4, 2000. On April 3, each read in a special Favorite Poem presentation in the Jefferson Building’s Coolidge Auditorium, along with Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts William Ivey; Ellen McCulloch Lovell, Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady; Robert Pinsky; and Special Consultants Rita Dove, Louise Glück, and W.S. Merwin. On April 4, the Witter Bynner Fellows participated in the last in a series of seminars on that day, on “Poetry in America Today.”

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. She received her B.A. degree from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where she continues to reside. She is the author of Hugging the Jukebox (1982), Red Suitcase (1994), and Fuel (1998). A new collection of her poems, Come with Me, will be published this year.

Joshua Weiner, who received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California at Berkeley, was director of the Writing Program at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and now teaches at Northwestern University. He has published poems in many literary journals, and his first book of poetry, The World’s Room, will be published in the Phoenix Poets Series at the University of Chicago Press in 2001.

The funding source for the fellowships, the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, was incorporated in 1972 in New Mexico to provide grant support for programs in poetry through nonprofit organizations. Mr. Bynner was an influential early-20th-century poet and translator of the Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching, which he named The Way of Life According to Laotzu. He traveled with D.H. and Frieda Lawrence and proposed to Edna St. Vincent Millay (she accepted, but then they changed their minds). He worked at McClure’s magazine, where he published A.E. Houseman for the first time in the United States and was one of O. Henry’s early fans.