Marilyn Nelson

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Marilyn Nelson
Marilyn Nelson 1211962.jpg
Born (1946-04-26) April 26, 1946 (age 74)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of California-Davis;
University of Pennsylvania;
University of Minnesota

Marilyn Nelson (born April 26, 1946) is an American poet, translator, and children's book author. She is a professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut, and the former poet laureate of Connecticut,[1] She is a winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, and the Frost Medal. From 1978 to 1994 she published under the name Marilyn Nelson Waniek.[2] She is the author or translator of over twenty books and five chapbooks of poetry for adults and children. While most of her work deals with historical subjects, in 2014 she published a memoir, named one of NPR's Best Books of 2014, entitled How I Discovered Poetry.[3][4][5]

Early life[edit]

Nelson was born on April 26, 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Melvin M. Nelson, a U.S. serviceman in the Air Force, and Johnnie Mitchell Nelson, a teacher. She grew up on military bases, and began writing while in elementary school. She earned a B.A. from the University of California-Davis, an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970, and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1979.[6]


She is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Connecticut and the founder and director of Soul Mountain Retreat. She was poet laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001 to 2006.[6]

Her poetry collections include The Homeplace (Louisiana State University Press), which won the 1992 Anisfield-Wolf Award[7] and was a finalist for the 1991 National Book Award;[6] and The Fields Of Praise: New And Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press), which won the Poets' Prize in 1999[7] and was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Award. Her honors include two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, and a 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship.[6] In 2011, she spent a semester as a Brown Foundation Fellow at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.[8] In 2012, the Poetry Society of America awarded her the Frost Medal.[9] In 2013, Nelson was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.[6]

Published works[edit]

Poetry books
  • How I Discovered Poetry (Speak, 2016, ISBN 978-0-1475-1005-1)
  • American Ace (Dial Books, 2016, ISBN 978-0-8037-3305-3)
  • The Meeting House (Antrim House, 2016, ISBN 978-1-9438-2612-4)
  • My Seneca Village (Namelos, 2015, ISBN 978-1-6089-8197-7)
  • Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 (Louisiana State University Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-8071-4734-4)
  • Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story Of The Greatest All-Girl Swing Band In The World (Dial Books, 2009, Illustrator Jerry Pinkney, ISBN 9780803731875)
  • The Freedom Business: Including A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa (Front Street, 2008, ISBN 978-1-932425-57-4)
  • A Wreath for Emmett Till (Houghton Mifflin, 2005, Illustrator Philippe Lardy, ISBN 978-0-618-39752-5)
  • The Cachoeira Tales, and Other Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-8071-3064-3)
  • Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem (Front Street, 2004, notes and annotations by Pamela Espeland)
  • Carver, a Life in Poems (Front Street, 2001, ISBN 978-1-886910-53-9)
  • The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-8071-2175-7)
  • Magnificat (Louisiana State University Press, 1994, ISBN 978-0-8071-1921-1)
  • The Homeplace (Louisiana State University Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-8071-1641-8)
  • Mama's Promises (Louisiana State University Press, 1985, ISBN 978-0-8071-1250-2)
  • For the Body (Louisiana State University Press, 1978, ISBN 978-0-8071-0464-4)
  • She-Devil Circus (Aralia Press, 2001)
  • Triolets for Triolet (Curbstone Press, 2001)
  • Partial Truth (The Kutenai Press, 1992)
  • The Freedom Business: Connecticut Landscapes Through the Eyes of Venture Smith (Lyme Historical Society, Florence Griswold Museum, 2006, illustrated by American paintings from the Florence Griswold Museum)
Collaborative books
  • Mrs. Nelson's Class (editor, World Enough Writers, 2012)
  • Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (Wordsong, 2007, with Elizabeth Alexander, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, ISBN 978-1-59078-456-3)
  • Pemba’s Song: A Ghost Story (Scholastic Press, 2008, with Tonya Hegamin)
  • The Cat Walked Through the Casserole (Carolrhoda Books, 1984, with Pamela Espeland, various illustrators)
  • A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young by Halfdan Rasmussen (translated from Danish with Pamela Espeland, Candlewick, 2011, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes)
  • The Ladder by Halfdan Rasmussen (translated from Danish, Candlewick, 2006, illustrated by Pierre Pratt)
  • The Thirteenth Month by Inge Pedersen (translated from Danish, Oberlin College Press, 2005)
  • Hecuba by Euripides, in Euripides I, Penn Greek Drama Series (translated from earlier English translations, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998)
  • Hundreds of Hens and Other Poems for Children by Halfdan Rasmussen (translated from Danish, Black Willow Press, 1982, with Pamela Espeland, illustrations by D.M. Robinson)
Books for young children
In Anthology
  • Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology (University of Georgia Press, 2018)

Honors and awards[edit]

Kent fellowship, 1976; National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, 1981, 1990; Connecticut Arts Award, 1990; National Book Award finalist for poetry, 1991; Annisfield-Wolf Award, 1992; Fulbright teaching fellowship, 1995; National Book Award finalist for poetry, 1997; Poets' Prize, 1999, for The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems; Contemplative Practices fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2000; named Poet Laureate for the State of Connecticut, Connecticut Commission on the Arts, 2001; J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, 2001; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and National Book Award finalist in young-people's literature category, both 2001, and Coretta Scott King Honor Book designation, Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for Nonfiction, and Newbery Honor designation, all 2002, all for Carver: A Life in Poems; Coretta Scott King Book Award, 2005, for Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem; two Pushcart prizes; Michael L. Printz Award honor book designation, Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award honor book designation, and Coretta Scott King Honor Award, all 2006, all for A Wreath for Emmett Till; Lifetime Achievement honor, Connecticut Book Awards, 2006,[10] NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, 2017.[11] In 2019, she was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and noted for being "a renowned poet, author, and translator who has worked steadily throughout her career to highlight topics that aren’t often talked about in poetry. Her literary work, spanning more than four decades, examines complex issues around race, feminism, and the ongoing trauma of slavery in American life in narratives poised between song and speech."[12]


  1. ^ "Marilyn Nelson". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  2. ^ "Nelson, Marilyn, 1946-". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on December 12, 2012.
  3. ^ "Marilyn Nelson: Winner of the 2017 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature". The Neustadt Prizes. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  4. ^ "In 'Poetry,' The Story Of An African-American Military Family". National Public Radio. All Things Considered. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  5. ^ "NPR's Book Concierge: Our Guide to 2014's Great Reads". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Marilyn Nelson". Academy of American Poets. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  7. ^ a b "African American recipients of poetry prizes, awards (1987-2015)". Cultural Front. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  8. ^ "Brown Foundation Fellows". Sewanee: The University of the South. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  9. ^ "Announcing the 2012 Frost Medalist, Marilyn Nelson". Poetry Society of America. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  10. ^ "Nelson, Marilyn 1946- (Marilyn Nelson Waniek)". - Contemporary Authors. Gale. 2009.
  11. ^ "Marilyn Nelson Announced as 2017 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature Winner - The Neustadt Prize". The Neustadt Prize. 2016-10-30. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  12. ^ "Poetry Foundation Announces 2019 Pegasus Awards Winners, Marilyn Nelson Awarded Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize". Poetry Foundation. May 7, 2019. Retrieved 2019-05-31.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]