CSI Professor Tyehimba Jess Wins 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

In another significant distinction for The City University of New York’s towering presence in the world of poetry, Tyehimba Jess, an associate professor of English at CUNY’s College of Staten Island, has been awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his collection Olio.

This is the second time in the past three years that a CUNY scholar has won this extraordinary honor; in 2015, Gregory Pardlo, a graduate student at CUNY’s Graduate Center, won the Pulitzer for his poetry collection, Digest.

In addition, Sarah DeLappe, a Brooklyn College MFA student, was a finalist this year in the drama category of the Pulitzers for her play about a girls’ high school soccer team, “The Wolves.”

The Pulitzer judges cited Jess’ poetry for being “a distinctive work that melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity.” With rhythms reminiscent of the blues, work songs and gospel hymns, Olio looks at African-American artists between the Civil War and the First World War as they fought against, co-opted and sometimes defeated the minstrel show stereotype.

Jess’ first book of poetry, Leadbelly, won the 2004 National Poetry Series; the Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review each named it one of the best poetry books of 2005. Among numerous other honors, he received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and won a 2000 – 2001 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship.

DeLappe’s inventive play about a girl’s high school soccer team, which ran at The Playwrights Realm last year, received the American Playwriting Foundation’s inaugural Relentless Award and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Yale Drama Series Prize. DeLappe is the Page One Playwright for The Playwrights Realm and has been a resident artist at the Sitka Fellows Program and SPACE on Ryder Farm. Her MFA is in process at Brooklyn College.

Jess’ Pulitzer strengthens CUNY’s remarkable presence and influence in American poetry. Some of the country’s most decorated poets call CUNY home and, through their teaching and inspiration, offer extraordinary opportunities for CUNY’s student poets.

Among the University’s most distinguished faculty poets are:

Meena Alexander, a Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and in the doctoral program in English at the Graduate Center, is an internationally acclaimed poet and author of literary memoirs, essays and fiction.

Billy Collins, a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College, is one of the country’s most honored poets and served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003.

Kimiko Hahn, a Distinguished Professor in the MFA program at Queens College, has received the American Book Award and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.

Ben Lerner, a Distinguished Professor in the MFA program at Brooklyn College, is a current MacArthur Fellow who has also been a Guggenheim Fellow and a finalist for the National Book Award.

Grace Schulman, a Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College, has published seven collections of poetry. The most recent of her many awards was the 2016 Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal for Distinguished Achievement in American Poetry.

Tom Sleigh, a Distinguished Professor at Hunter College, has won numerous awards, including the 2008 Kingsley Tufts Award, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a three-year Individual Writer’s Award from the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund.