Kelly Cherry

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Kelly Cherry
BornKelly Cherry
(1940-12-21)21 December 1940
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedMarch 18, 2022(2022-03-18) (aged 81)
Halifax, Virginia, U.S.
  • Poet
  • author
  • essayist
EducationUniversity of Mary Washington
University of Virginia
University of North Carolina at Greensboro (MFA)
Notable worksQuartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer (poems)
Twelve Women in a Country Called America: Stories
A Kind of Dream
Girl in a Library: On Women Writers & the Writing Life
Hazard and Prospect: New and Selected Poems
The Retreats of Thought
Notable awardsPoet Laureate of Virginia (2010–12)
SpouseBurke Davis III

Kelly Cherry (December 21, 1940 – March 18, 2022) was a novelist, poet, essayist, professor, and literary critic[1] and a former Poet Laureate of Virginia (2010–2012).[2] She was the author of more than 30 books, including the poetry collections Songs for a Soviet Composer, Death and Transfiguration, Rising Venus and The Retreats of Thought.[3][1] Her short fiction was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, and New Stories from the South, and won a number of awards.[4]


Cherry was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,[1] to J. Milton, a violinist and music professor, and Mary Spooner, a violinist and writer.[5] She moved to Ithaca, New York, at age 5, and Chesterfield County, Virginia, at age 9.

She received her bachelor's degree from Mary Washington College in 1961 and an MFA in 1967 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.[5] She married Jonathan Silver in 1966 and divorced him in 1969.[5] She later married Walter Burke Davis III, a writer, journalist and bookseller.[6]

Cherry died on March 18, 2022, at the age of 81.[1] She was survived by her dog, Booker, and preceded in death by her husband Burke Davis III.[4] The editors of storySouth dedicated the magazine's spring 2022 issue to her for her support of "all the little magazines."[7]


Early career[edit]

Virginia Poets Laureate at University of Mary Washington Reunion Day, June 3, 2011. Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda (2006-2008), Claudia Emerson (2008-2010) and Kelly Cherry (2010-2012)[8]

Cherry graduated from the University of Mary Washington in 1961, did graduate work at the University of Virginia in philosophy as a Du Pont Fellow, and received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After working in publishing for some years, she accepted a position at Southwest Minnesota State College. She began teaching at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1977.[9][10] Cherry later became the Eudora Welty Professor Emerita of English and Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita in the Humanities[11] at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.[12]

Later career[edit]

Cherry retired in 1999 and in retirement held chairs and distinguished writer positions at a number of universities, including the University of Alabama in Huntsville (Eminent Scholar), Colgate University, Mercer University, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Hollins University.

A resident of Halifax, Virginia, she was named the state's Poet Laureate by Governor Bob McDonnell in July 2010. She succeeded Claudia Emerson in this post (Poet Laureate of Virginia, 2008–2010).[13]

Literary themes and styles[edit]

Cherry's poetry frequently focused on issues related to philosophy[14] and language,[3] and has been described as trying to "discover within the art of poetry methods and procedures identical to, or closely analogous with, those of a science or a rigorous formal philosophy."[14] Or as Cherry described it, "the becoming-aware of abstraction in real life--since, in order to abstract, you must have something to abstract from."[15]

Within her novels, the abstract notions of morality become her focus: "My novels deal with moral dilemmas and the shapes they create as they reveal themselves in time. My poems seek out the most suitable temporal or kinetic structure for a given emotion."[15] As described in Contemporary Authors, Cherry "manages to capture, in very readable stories, the indecisiveness and mute desperation of life in the twentieth century."[15]

From the beginning of her career, Cherry wrote both formal verse and free verse. According to the citation preceding her receipt of the James G. Hanes Poetry Prize by the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 1989, "Her poetry is marked by a firm intellectual passion, a reverent desire to possess the genuine thought of our century, historical, philosophical, and scientific, and a species of powerful ironic wit which is allied to rare good humor." Reviewing Relativity, Patricia Goedicke noted in Three Rivers Poetry Journal that "her familiarity with the demands and pressures of traditional patterns has an expansion and deepening of her poetic resources, a carefully textured over- and underlay of image, meaning and diction." Mark Harris felt that Cherry's "ability to sustain a narrative by clustering and repeating images [lends] itself to longer forms, and 'A Bird's Eye View of Einstein,' the longest poem in [Relativity], is an example of Cherry at her poetic best." Reviewing Cherry's collection, Death and Transfiguration, Patricia Gabilondo wrote in The Anglican Theological Review that "the abstract prose poem 'Requiem' that closes this book...translates personal loss into the historical and universal, providing an occasion for philosophical meditation on the mystery of suffering and the need for transcendence in a post-Holocaust world that seems to offer none. Moving through the terrors of nihilism and doubt, Cherry, in a poem that deftly alternates between the philosophically abstract and the image's graphic force, gives us an intellectually honest and deeply moving vision of our relation to each other's suffering and of God's relation to humanity's 'memory of pain'."[15]

Teaching positions in retirement[edit]

While at the University of Wisconsin[edit]

Other positions and posts include[edit]

  • Member, Electorate, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC (five-year term beginning 2009; extended to 2016; now Electorate Emeritus)
  • Associated Writing Programs Board of Directors (1990–93)
  • Discipline Advisory Committee for Fulbright Awards (1991–94)
  • Advisory Editor, Shenandoah (1988–92)
  • Contributing Editor, The Hollins Critic (1996–present)
  • Contributing Editor, The Smart Set (2015–present)



  • Sick and full of burning. New York: Viking Press. 1974.
    • Reprinted: Ballantine (1975); Boson Books (1995)
  • Augusta Played, Houghton Mifflin, (1979), ISBN 978-0-395-27573-3; Louisiana State University Press, (1984). A novel.
  • In the Wink of an Eye. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1983. ISBN 9780151446568.: A novel. LSU Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8071-2966-1
  • The Lost Traveller's Dream, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, (1984) ISBN 978-0-15-153617-7. A novel.
  • My Life and Dr. Joyce Brothers. A novel in stories. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, (1990); reprinted by University of Alabama Press, (2002).
  • We Can Still Be Friends, Soho Press, (2003) hardback; (2004) trade paper, ISBN 978-1-56947-323-8. A novel.

Short fiction[edit]

  • Conversion, Treacle Press, (1979) ISBN 978-0-914232-28-5. A story.
  • The Society of Friends: Stories, University of Missouri Press, (1999) ISBN 978-0-8262-1243-6
  • The Woman Who. Boson Books (2010), Bitingduck Press. Short stories.
  • A Kind of Dream. Interlinked short stories, U. of Wisconsin Press, spring 2014. ISBN 978-0299297602
  • Twelve Women in a Country Called America: Stories. Press 53, May 2015. ISBN 978-1-941209-19-6
  • Temporium: Before the Beginning To After the End: Fictions. Press 53. October, 2017.



  • Beholder's Eye, poems. Groundhog Poetry Press, 2017.
  • Weather, poems. A chapbook. N.Y.: Rain Mountain Press, 2017.
  • Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Poem. (In shorter poems.) LSU Press, February 2017.
  • Physics for Poets: Poems. Unicorn Press, spring 2015
  • The Life and Death of Poetry: Poems, LSU Press, March 2013
  • Vectors: J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Years before the Bomb, Parallel Press, 2012
  • The Retreats of Thought: Poems. LSU Press. 2009. ISBN 978-0-8071-3478-8.
  • Death and Transfiguration. LSU Press. 1997. ISBN 978-0-8071-2212-9.
  • Benjamin John, March Street Press, 1993, ISBN 978-1-882983-01-8
  • Hazard and Prospect: New and Selected Poems. LSU Press. 2007. ISBN 978-0-8071-3262-3.
  • Natural Theology, Louisiana State University Press, 1988, ISBN 978-0-8071-1430-8
  • Lovers and Agnostics, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1995, ISBN 9780887482083
  • An Other Woman, Somers Rocks Press, 2000
  • God's Loud Hand. LSU Press. 1993. ISBN 978-0-8071-1821-4.
  • Songs for a Soviet Composer, Singing Wind Press, 1980, ISBN 978-0-935896-02-2
  • Rising Venus. LSU Press. 2002. ISBN 978-0-8071-2768-1.
  • Time Out of Mind, March Street Press, 1994, ISBN 978-1-882983-08-7
  • Relativity: A Point of View, Louisiana State University Press, 1977, ISBN 978-0-8071-0277-0
  • Welsh Table Talk, The Book Arts Conservatory, 2004
List of poems
Title Year First published Reprinted/collected
Field notes 1997 Cherry, Kelly (July 1997). "Field notes". The Atlantic Monthly. 280 (1): 56.



  • Antigone (trans.), in Sophocles, 2, ed. by Slavitt and Bovie
  • Octavia (trans.), in Seneca: The Tragedies, Vol. 2, ed. Slavitt and Bovie

Publications in Prize Anthologies[edit]

Honors, awards and fellowships[edit]



  • 2017 The William "Singing Billy" Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Letters
  • 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • 2015 Finalist, Library of Virginia Fiction Award for A Kind of Dream: Stories.
  • 2015 Selected by LJ among 30 Top Indie Fiction titles.
  • 2013 L. E. Phillabaum Poetry Award
  • 2012 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize
  • 2012 Rebecca Mitchell Taramuto Short Fiction Prize for "On Familiar Terms," Blackbird at
  • 2011 The Bravo!Award by the Chesterfield Public Education Foundation, Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia, USA[17]
  • 2010 Finalist, People's Choice Awards, Library of Virginia, for Girl in a Library: On Women Writers & the Writing Life
  • 2010 Director's Visitor, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey
  • 2010 The Ellen Anderson Award (first recipient) from the Poetry Society of Virginia
  • 2009 Finalist (with Marvin Bell and Mark Jarman) for The Poets' Prize[18]
  • 2009 Finalist, Book of the Year Award, ForeWord Magazine, nonfiction, for Girl in a Library: On Women Writers and the Writing Life[19]
  • 2002 Book of the Year Award by ForeWord Magazine, Silver Prize for Poetry, for Rising Venus.[20]
  • 2000 Bradley Major Achievement Award (Lifetime), Council for Wisconsin Writers
  • 2000 Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Mary Washington
  • 2000 Dictionary of Literary Biography Award for the best volume of short stories (The Society of Friends: Stories) published in 1999[21]
  • 1999 Leidig Lectureship in Poetry, Emory & Henry College
  • 1992 USIS Arts America Speaker Award (The Philippines). USIS is now called the USIA
  • 1992, 1991 Wisconsin Arts Board New Work Awards
  • 1991 VCCA Writers Exchange Fellow (with Edwin Honig et al.) to Russia (Leningrad, Peredelkino, Yalta)
  • 1991 First Prize for Book-length Fiction, Council for Wisconsin Writers (for My Life and Dr. Joyce Brothers)
  • 1991 Wisconsin Notable Author, Literary Committee of the Wisconsin Library Association[22]
  • 1990, 1987, 1983 PEN Syndicated Fiction Awards
  • 1989 Hanes Poetry Prize[13] given by the Fellowship of Southern Writers for a body of work, first recipient.
  • 1980 First Prize for Book-length Fiction, Council for Wisconsin Writers (for Augusta Played)
  • 1974 Canaras Award for first novel, Sick and Full of Burning



  1. ^ a b c d "Kelly Cherry: A poetic voice for the atomic age" by James T. Keane, America Magazine, April 05, 2022.
  2. ^ a b Virginia Law and Library of Congress List of Poets Laureate of Virginia. Retrieved on 2011-05-25.
  3. ^ a b "Two Women: One Art The Life and Death of Poetry by Kelly Cherry and Eldest Daughter by Ava Leavell Haymon" by Randall Ivey, Modern Age, 58(1), winter 2016, page 82.
  4. ^ a b "Kelly Cherry (1940-2022)," University of Wisconsin, Madison, Department of English, accessed July 17, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c "Cherry, Kelly," Encyclopedia of the American Novel by Abby H. P. Werlock, Infobase Publishing, 2015.
  6. ^ "Walter Burke Davis III Obituary," The News and Observer, Oct. 20, 2020.
  7. ^ "Editor's note," storySouth issue 53, spring 2022, accessed July 17, 2022.
  8. ^ Virginia Poets Laureate at the University of Mary Washington Reunion Day, June 3, 2011 Archived June 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Video of Reading at University of Mary Washington
  9. ^ "Biography". Kelly Cherry Books. 2011. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  10. ^ "1991 Notable Wisconsin Authors". Wisconsin Library Association. May 12, 2004. Archived from the original on May 27, 2011. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  11. ^ University of Wisconsin–Madison ~ Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita in the Humanities ~ Kelly Cherry Archived 2011-08-14 at the Wayback Machine. (2011-02-14). Retrieved on 2011-05-25.
  12. ^ University of Wisconsin–Madison Experts Guide ~ Kelly Cherry. Retrieved on 2011-05-25.
  13. ^ a b "Kelly Cherry named Va. poet laureate". The Washington Post. Associated Press. January 28, 2011. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Kelly Cherry in Her Poetry: The Subject as Object" by Fred Chappell, The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2, SPECIAL ISSUE: SOUTHERN POETRY (SPRING 2005), page 256.
  15. ^ a b c d "Cherry, Kelly 1940-," Contemporary Authors, v. 209, Gale, 2003, pages 116-135.
  16. ^ O. Henry Award 1994 for "Not the Phil Donahue Show" The Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 1993
  17. ^ "And the 2011 BravoAwards Winners are..." Chesterfield Observer. May 18, 2011. Retrieved May 22, 2011.
  18. ^ R. S. Gwynn (May 2, 2009). "Ellen Bryant Voigt Wins 2009 Poets' Prize". Retrieved May 22, 2011.
  19. ^ "2009 Foreword INDIES Finalists in Essays (Adult Nonfiction)". Foreword Reviews. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  20. ^ ForeWord Magazine 'Book of the Year' award, Silver Prize for Poetry, 2002 book: "Rising Venus"
  21. ^ "Awards". Kelly Cherry Books. 2010. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  22. ^ Notable Wisconsin Authors. Wisconsin Library Association. (pdf) Retrieved on 2011-05-25.
  23. ^ Yaddo List of Artist Fellows ~ Writers Archived 2015-05-20 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2011-05-25.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]