Vanderbilt’s Pruitt named a Top 40 poet by Essence magazine

Stephanie Pruitt

Stephanie Pruitt, who received her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing in May 2010, has been named one of “Forty Favorite Poets” by Essence magazine in honor of its 40th anniversary.  Pruitt’s name appeared alongside such luminaries as Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Marilyn Nelson, Elizabeth Alexander, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

“I did a double take when I saw my name in the proximity of so many of the writers I have long admired,” Pruitt said. “It’s nice to be recognized and I take this as a nod that I’m moving in the right direction, but success for me comes one poem at a time.”

Pruitt, a native of Nashville, received the 2010 Academy of American Poets Prize and the 2009 Sedberry Prize.  She was a finalist for Poet and Writers’ Maureen Egen Award.

Her current project is a collection of poems about two fictional half-sisters during the period from 1840 to 1860; Pruitt’s poems follow the sisters as they escape from a Middle Tennessee plantation and settle in the North.

Her poems construct their narrative backbone on documented, historical places and occurrences.  Pruitt did research in a number of archives around the United States, many of them in Tennessee, including Belle Meade Plantation and The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home.

Here’s an excerpt from Pruitt’s poem Black Pepper 1841:

Knowing one day, others may run

cook stows it away

in apron pockets as she prepares

a meal she will not sit down to eat.

Teaspoons of crushed black gold

coating boot heels with hope

that it will defeat the hounds.

Let those well seasoned feet run.



Short story collection by Lorraine López honored

A short story collection by Vanderbilt fiction writer Lorraine López, a collection described as “an amazingly original Flannery O’Connor/Loretta Lynn collision,” was one of five finalists for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Homicide Survivors Picnic by Lorraine López, associate professor of English at Vanderbilt, competed with books by Sherman Alexie, Barbara Kingsolver, Lorrie Moore and Colson Whitehead for the award (which Sherman Alexie won).   López and the other three finalists each received $5,000.

The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is the largest peer-juried prize for fiction in America.

“This is an amazing honor,” said López, who teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Vanderbilt. “I have long admired the other finalists and I am thrilled to be in such esteemed company.”

The finalists were honored in May 2010 at the 30th Annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

“Overwhelmed by book-length stories and storytellers, we three writer-judges had to knuckle down and settle in for some serious summer, fall and winter reading and inner-listening,” said judge Al Young. “We managed to come up with five lingering beauties that freshly express the complex ways Americans believe and behave.”  The other judges were Rilla Askew and Kyoko Mori.

Homicide Survivors Picnic illustrates the lives of men, women, teenagers and children at turning-point moments. The title story follows a single mother as she drives her pregnant teenage daughter and son to a gathering for survivors of murdered loved ones.

Critic Heather Sellers writes: “An amazingly original Flannery O’Connor/Loretta Lynn collision, this collection lets us witness the indomitable spirit and forces us to take pure joy in all we really ever have a chance at: flowed, gorgeous, weird, rollicking, screwed survival.”

Peter Guralnick inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame

Peter Guralnick

Vanderbilt University writer-in-residence Peter Guralnick was inducted with Bonnie Raitt, Charles Musselwhite, and Lonnie Brooks into the Blues Hall of Fame during a May 5, 2010 ceremony in Memphis.

Guralnick is the author of acclaimed biographies on Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke. About Last Train to Mephis, the first volume about Presley, Bob Dylan wrote, “Elvis steps from the pages. You can feel him breathe. This book cancels out all others.” Guralnick has also written extensively about the blues. The Blues Hall of Fame already lists his books, Feel Like Going Home, Searching for Robert Johnson and Sweet Soul Music, as “Classics of Blues Literature.”

Guralnick’s fellow inductee in the “non-performer” category was Sonny Payne, host of the King Biscuit Time radio show.   Previous non-performer inductees include Sam Phillips, Alan Lomax and Leonard Chess.  Guralnick is currently working on a book about Phillips.