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Nov. 18: CMU's Terrance Hayes Wins Coveted National Book Award for "Lighthead"

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CMU's Terrance Hayes Wins Coveted
National Book Award for "Lighthead"

Creative Writing Professor Receives Top U.S. Poetry Prize at "Oscars of the Literary World"

PHayesITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University Professor Terrance Hayes has won a 2010 National Book Award, a top U.S. literary prize, for his latest book of poetry, "Lighthead." The first CMU professor to win the coveted prize, Hayes accepted the award last night at a ceremony in New York City.

In "Lighthead," Hayes combines different poetry styles, including the Japanese presentation format Pecha Kucha, to tell personal, political and historical stories. In a starred, or prominently featured, review, Publishers Weekly praised Hayes for Lighthead's "sly, twisting, hip, jazzy poems his fans have come to expect, but also with a new somberness of tone and mature caution."

"It's a tremendous honor to have Terrance Hayes join the ranks of other prominent American writers whom the National Book Association has recognized for exceptional work," said Chris Neuwirth, head of the Department of English. "I am very proud to be associated with a talented and dedicated faculty member like Terrance, who has so much to give to his students."

Hayes, who joined the CMU faculty in 2001 and teaches beginning and advanced poetry workshops in the English Department's Creative Writing Program, said he was honored to be named a finalist for what he considers to be the "Oscars of the Literary World." He describes "Lighthead" as the result of obsession and joyful work.

"I had been thinking about the imagination as a sort of lightheadedness and also of a 'light head' as a head on fire," he said. "Fire is a source of warmth and passion, but it's also a source for destruction. It illuminates, it burns. This became a guiding principle for the book. It's organized around positive and negative, internal and external images of fire."

"Lighthead" is Hayes' fourth poetry book. His previous collection, "Wind in a Box," was named one of the Best 100 Books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly. His other poetry books are "Hip Logic," which won the National Poetry Series Open Competition and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and "Muscular Music," which won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

LightheadColleague and fellow award-winning poet Jim Daniels, the Thomas Stockham Baker Professor of English, said he was thrilled, but not surprised to hear the news.

"From his first book, 'Muscular Music,' it was clear that Terrance was a special poet. Actually for me, it was even earlier," Daniels said. "I did a reading with Terrance when he was in the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh many years ago and was amazed by the originality and freshness of his voice. When we were lucky enough to hire him a couple of years later and bring him back to Pittsburgh, I was very confident that Terrance was at the beginning of a great career, and he's clearly proved that with each and every book since. He's well-deserving of this award."

National Book Awards are given annually to recognize outstanding achievements in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature. "Just to be nominated places Terrance Hayes among the most accomplished poets in this country," said Gerald Costanzo, professor of English and director of the Carnegie Mellon University Press, a premier publishing house for poetry. 

Hayes' other honors include two Pushcart Prizes, four "Best American Poetry" selections, a Whiting Writers Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

For more information about Terrance Hayes, read this story about his National Book Award nomination and watch this video of him reading from "Lighthead."

Pictured above is English Professor Terrance Hayes, who won the 2010 National Book Award for "Lighthead."