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Marilyn Nelson

I want to be remembered
as a voice that was made to be singing
the lullaby of shadows
as a child fades into a dream.
Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson is unique among important American poets for her dedication to, and success in writing poetry for both adult and young audiences.  


In both domains she is surely one of our most honored poets.  Indeed, for her 17 books of poems, she is a three-time finalist for the National Book Award and has won the Frost Medal, Poets’ Prize, Unicorn Award for Excellence in American Poetry, Anisfield-Wolf Award, Connecticut Arts Award, and Connecticut Book Award.  For her books for children and teens, she has been honored with the Neustadt Prize, Newberry Honor Book, Corretta Scott King Honor Book (twice), Boston Globe/Hornbook Award (twice), and Flora Stieglitz Straus Award.  She is also the author of the celebrated memoir
How I Discovered Poetry, which NPR named a Best Book of 2014, In addition to her many literary honors, she is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, the Emerita State Poet Laureate of Connecticut, and Emerita Professor of UConn.


Ms. Nelson’s poetic voice sings in many keys.  She is sometimes a poet of comfort and prayer, sometimes a poet of remembrance, sometimes a poet of outrage at life’s hardness, sometimes a poet of gutsy, joyful, and cleansing laughter.  The critic Sandra McPherson has remarked that Nelson “may have the most wicked timing in poetry today.”  The poet-critic Mark Doty has commented:


“Marilyn Nelson’s wisdom is to understand that our stubborn, deeply human  longings for one another are also the grounds for spiritual life; the heart and soul are so mutually engaged that we can’t quite tell them apart… her bold and  sure poems long for heaven and – happily for us – continue a lifelong affair with the occasions of the earth.”


Marilyn Nelson was born into a military family in the wake of World War II.  Her father was one of the “Tuskegee Airmen” – the celebrated squadron of black pilots.  Although, or perhaps because his daughter would be raised on the usual geographic hodge-podge of military bases across the country, she would begin writing while still in elementary school.  After obtaining degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at Davis, and the University of Minnesota, she went onto become a professor at UConn.  She is also the founder and director of the writer’s retreat Soul Mointain.


Ms. Nelson has read at virtually every important venue across the country and has earned a reputation for her warm and funny podium presence.  A Marilyn Nelson reading is a literary and cultural event.