Robert P. Arthur
|Robert P. Arthur|
October 5, 1943 |
Norfolk, Virginia, United States
|Occupation||Poet, novelist, short story writer, playwright, critic, professor|
Robert Peebles "Bob" Arthur (born 1943) is a poet, a novelist, a short story writer, a playwright, a critic, a director, and a professor. He has written and published over twenty books and plays and 1,500 articles on the arts. A finalist for Poet Laureate of Virginia in 2008 and 2010, he remains best known for his book of poems, Hymn to the Chesapeake, the best-selling book in the history of Road Publishers.
Eleven of his plays have been pegged "poem-plays," a genre possibly created by Arthur. Additionally, Arthur has founded two national literary journals: BlackWater Review (with poet Juliet Crichton) and Lady Jane's Miscellany" (with poet Jeff Hewitt) in 2009. In 2002, he founded Poetry in Performance,a touring poetry group that starred Lisa Neely, Amber Wood, Sunday Abbott, Jeff Hewitt, and D.D. Delaney. "Poetry in Performance" has featured the music of internationally known singers and performers Gordon Bok, Andy Stewart, and Bob Zentz, as well as the new works of the Blue Marsh Band and the poetry of Virginia Poets Laureate Claudia Emerson and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda.
In 2005, he founded San Francisco Bay Press with Jeff Hewitt and his daughter, Hannah, who is Editor-in-Chief. In 2007, he co-founded the Spoken Word Theatre at 40th Street Stage in Norfolk, Virginia, also with Hewitt. He has been a literary and/or drama critic for five newspapers and magazines, including Port Folio Magazine (Virginia Beach), where he co-founded with Bill Candler the Port Folio Awards for dramatic arts," and served as its director for over fifteen years . He is the Artistic Director of the Edge Theatre in Belle Haven, Virginia: the Poetry Selection Editor of Northampton House Press; and a former director of a drama program at Tidewater Community College.
Arthur is a writer-in-residence in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania and a former writer-in-residence of Beverly Cordoba Duane's Second Wind Dance Company in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He served out the term as one of three literary advisors for the Poetry Society of Virginia, replacing the great Virginia poet and writer, George Garrett, on the latter's death in 2009. He is now an Executive Director of the Poetry Society of Virginia.
Early life and education
Robert P. Arthur was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1943, but spent much of his childhood on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in Melfa and Silver Beach, which are small fishing communities on the Chesapeake Bay. His mother’s side of the family, the Barnes family, hails from the Scottish Drummond clan and William Drummond, who relocated to the Eastern Shore in the 17th century. William Drummond, the colonial Governor and a principal player in Bacon’s Rebellion, was the first man hanged in Virginia for insurrection and a possible relative of the Scottish poet, William Drummond.
On his father’s side, Arthur is a descendant of Governor William Bradford, who was a leader of the separatist settlers of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, and primary architect of the Mayflower Compact.
Arthur’s paternal grandfather, Robert P. Arthur, died at age 29 before Arthur was born and was survived by Arthur’s grandmother, Laura Turlington. Both Laura and Arthur’s maternal grandfather and grandmother, Florence and Clifford Barnes, played important roles in Arthur’s early life.
As a child, Arthur’s first significant place of residence was Melfa, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. In Keller, Virginia, a town near Melfa, Arthur’s grandmother’s family, the Turlingtons, owned a small track at which they trained horses bred for harness racing. Due to his father’s absences and his mother’s epilepsy, Arthur spent much of his early childhood at the track with his five great uncles or prowling the waters of the Chesapeake with relatives who were watermen.
Arthur and his three brothers were all superior athletes. After a move to Norfolk, Robert was Athlete of the Year at Granby High School in both football and basketball and earned a football scholarship to the University of Richmond, Virginia, but his back and neck were injured his freshman year, leaving him lifelong physical problems. After the injuries, he took his acting and writing more seriously. Later, he became a skier, sailor, and white-water canoeist, as well as a second degree black- belt instructor in Taekwondo. His career in martial arts and other sports ended abruptly when he was fifty due to the progressive worsening of earlier injuries
Arthur earned a BA (1961–1965) and an MA (1966–1967) in English at the University of Richmond, Virginia, where he met his first wife, Patricia Waddell and became apprenticed to the writer Clifford Dowdey. After graduation, he taught creative writing in the same program with James T. Farrell.
Arthur earned an MFA from the University of Arkansas (1971–1973), where he worked closely with Miller Williams, and briefly studied with Maxine Kumin. Writers Richard Yates, Michael Yeats, James Whitehead, Bill Harrison, Larry McMurtry, and John Yount were among his teachers. Many of Arthur's Arkansas student friends included fine writers, such as Dave Evans (Poet Laureate of South Dakota), Gordon Osing (poet), Gary Ligi (poet), E.B. Weinstock (fiction writer), and Michael Gaspeny (fiction writer). Osing was instrumental in convincing Arthur to concentrate on poetry. Well-known poets Leon Stokesberry and R.S. Gwynn were in the same Arkansas program.
Arthur met his second wife, Cherry Owens, at Arkansas while they were both students there, she working on her doctorate, and he on his MFA. Arthur is most influenced by writers he either doesn’t know, or personally likes the least. He has never spoken to W.S. Merwin, and has not spoken to either Miller Williams or Bill Harrison for over thirty-five years. He has a grudge of unknown origin against Larry McMurtry, and once hid from James T. Farrell to avoid sitting with him on a plane.
Arthur is thought to have created a new genre he calls “poem-plays,” which marry individual poems to music in units that both stand alone and form a musical play complete with plot, dramatic arc and poetic diction. Twelve of Arthur's plays and poem-plays have been published in book form.
A high point of his career in the "poem-play" genre occurred in 1993, when his Hymn to the Chesapeake, with Judy Beck, was performed in a number of venues in Virginia and Maryland and later in New York and St. Petersburg, Russia. It began a long series of poem/plays with music which were produced throughout Virginia and sometimes previewed in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. His poem-play, Chesapeake Celebration, featured folk singer Bob Zentz and was produced by the Playwright's Premiere Theatre Company of New York under the direction of Robert Ruffin. Later, the Eastern Virginia Brass Quintet toured Virginia on fourteen grants with Arthur the only reader in a poem/play darkly celebrating the founding of Jamestown.
In 2009, he won five poetry awards from the Poetry Society of Virginia. Also, in 2009, his poem/play with music, "Roses So Red and Lilies So Fair," was produced in Williamsburg featuring contralto Sondra Gelb, formerly of San Francisco Metropolitan Opera of San Francisco. The high point of his career as a more traditional playwright occurred when Christopher Newport University of Virginia presented his "Phedra, starring international film star, Ina Gogolova, to the diplomatic community of Washington, D.C. In 2007 and 2008, he took top fiction honors in consecutive years at the Virginia Writer's Conference.
A section of the poetry book, Hymn to the Chesapeake, was used in "Written in Bone," by Douglas Owsley and Karin Bruwelheide," a "bone biographer's casebook" featuring forensic files of the Division of Natural Anthropology of the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, DC.
Poetry, Plays, and Poem-Plays
- Hymn to the Chesapeake (1993; ISBN 1-880016-12-5)
- Horse Hammock Point (1999; ISBN 0-9669930-3-9)
- Crazy Horse’s Woman (2005; ISBN 0-9763114-2-9)
- Winter Tales by Candlelight (2005; ISBN 0-9763114-3-7)
- A Chesapeake Celebration (2005; ISBN 0-9763114-0-2)
- Phaedra (2005; ISBN 0-9763114-4-5)
- Strokes (2005; ISBN 0-9763114-1-0)
- Vijas War and Other Poems (2007; ISBN 0-9763114-4-5)
- Black Gum Against Thunder[dead link](2012;ISBN 978-1-937997-16-8)
- Quartet (1985: The Hague Press)
- Music of Leaves (poem/play play book) (1988:Stonehall Publishing)
- The Libertine (playbook) (1988: Stonehall Publishing)
- Fut Gar and the Nature of Evil (poem/play play book) (1988: Stonehall Publishing) l
- The Front Porch Trilogy (2004: HaveScripts)
- Hymn to the Chesapeake (poem/play play book) (2004: HaveScripts)
- Under the Bed (poem/play) (2006: produced but unpublished)
- The Haunting (poem/play) (2007: produced but unpublished)
- Love’s Journey (poem/play) (2008: produced but unpublished
- Snow (produced and published as a part of Vija’s War and other Poems)
- Ur (produced and published as a part of Vija’s War and other Poems)
- Vija’s War (poem/play) (produced and published as a part of Vija’s War and other Poems)
- Matins of the Sook (produced and published as a part of The Front Porch Trilogy)
- Lonely in Onley (produced and published as a part of The Front Porch Trilogy)
- The Ghost of Marina (produced and published as a part of The Front Porch Trilogy)
- Appalachian Moons (poem/play) (produced and to be published by San Francisco Bay Press)
- Apology (play) (Published with Phaedra in Phaedra)
- "Roses So Red and Lilies So Fair" (produced and unpublished
- "Let's Make Like Jellies and Jam" (produced and unpublished)
- A New Gothic Restaurant, with E.B. Weinstock (University Press of America)
Acting and directing
Arthur acts in and directs his own plays for his own group, Poetry in Performance, and the 40th Street Stage in Norfolk, Virginia, as well as The Venue on 35th Street in Norfolk, Virginia. He has acted and/or directed throughout Virginia, Maryland, New York, Washington, and St. Petersburg, Russia. He is the Artistic Director of the Edge Theatre at the ESO in Belle Haven, Virginia.
- Magic Babelon, San Francisco: Biography and Poems of Robert P. Arthur
- Roses So Red and Lilies So Fair," by Williamsburg Regional Library and Poetry Society of Virginia (under production)
Awards and nominations
He has received awards for his poetry from the Poetry Society of Virginia, the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, and the Poetry Society of Florida. Arthur has also won the Port Folio Award for Distinguished Service in Playwriting, Poetry, and Criticism. His recent poetry book, Vija’s War, was nominated by the Poetry Society of Virginia for the Library of Virginia's poetry book award. Arthur's poetry has also won the Jean S. Desmond Ekphrastic Poem Prize from the Poetry Society of Virginia for "Appearances" and the Karma Dean Ogden Memorial award from the Poetry Society for Sunday Seizure." Other poems for which he has won poetry prizes from the Poetry Society of Virginia include Occahonnack Road," "Family Reunion," "The Forest," James Town Journey," "Appearances," "Snakes," "Pure Winter Comes," Windless Chantey, and Pure Winter Comes."
Awards won for fiction include the University of Arkansas MFA program Creative Writing Award, and the Baucum Fulkerson Award for Creative Excellence (fiction). Arthur's novel, Master William and the Finman, won the Mary Ann Farley Award for Fiction in 2007, as did his novel, "Storm Caller," the following year.
Arthur has won the Christian in the Arts award from Regent University (criticism, poetry, and drama), the Peoples Academy of the Arts Citation (arts criticism), and a Distinguished Service award from Port Folio magazine (drama). He has also received the Hampton Roads Drama Community Award. Converted into a poem/play, Hymn to the Chesapeake won Most Innovative Play from Port Folio Magazine in 1996. The poem/play, Phaedra received five Port Folio Awards, including Best Play in Hampton Roads, and was chosen for a VIP performance for the diplomatic community of Washington, D.C. . Threshold in America, which has won 14 grants to date, is a poetic glimpse into the Jamestown colony, and recently toured Virginia, backed by the Eastern Virginia Brass Quartet led by Bob and Marlene Ford, and scored by composer Leigh Baxter. Arthur has also won grants from the VSCC and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Arthur was a finalist for Poet Laureate of Virginia in 2008 and 2010.
Arthur lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia at his home in Onancock and in his cottage at Silver Beach. He has residences in Virginia Beach and Portsmouth, and spends January and June as a writer-in-residence in the graduate Creative Writing program at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He lives with his wife, former actress, Gray Hille Arthur, and his children, Robert William and Eudora. He also has three adult daughters: Nicole, Hannah, and Elizabeth. Hannah and Nicole are writers and editors; Hannah for the San Francisco Bay Press, and Nicole for the Washington Post.
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