Saratoga Springs, NY (April 11, 2008, updated April 22) - The Poetry Society of America presented its 2008 Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry to Yaddo author Michael S. Harper in an April 21 ceremony at the National Arts Club in New York City.
As the recipient of the Frost Medal, Mr. Harper delivered the Frost Medal Lecture, a retrospective reading and talk that will highlight the Society's 98th annual awards ceremony. The Frost Medal winner is selected by the Poetry Society of America Board of Governors.
"Michael Harper's achievements as an important and prolific poet, a distinguished and beloved teacher and an inspired editor make him the ideal recipient of the Poetry Society of America's highest honor," said Ruth Kaplan, president of the Poetry Society of America.
A longtime Member of The Corporation of Yaddo, Mr. Harper has been a Yaddo guest artist several times, beginning in 1975. He is the author of 10 books of poetry, most recently Selected Poems, Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems, Honorable Amendments, and Healing Song for the Inner Ear. He has a new poetry collection, Use Trouble, due out this fall from The University of Illinois Press. Earlier this year, he and Yaddo composer Richard Danielpour collaborated on Pastime, a work for narrator and orchestra that sets to music poems by Mr. Harper that pay tribute to three of baseball's biggest names – Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, and Josh Gibson. Pastime premiered with the Pittsburgh Symphony in January and in May with the Atlanta Symphony and is scheduled to debut in July with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.
A 2004 collaboration with Yaddo composer Paul Austerlitz was released on the CD Double Take: Jazz-Poetry Conversations (click for more information and an audio excerpt). The two artists developed an original style of highlighting the musicality of Mr. Harper's poetry and Mr. Austerlitz’s improvisatory compositions, which comment on the spoken word.
Mr. Harper, 70, was born in Brooklyn and earned a B.A. and M.A. from what is now known as California State University and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. Since 1970, he has taught at Brown University, where he is a professor of English. He was the first poet laureate of Rhode Island (1988-1993) and has received many other honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Award. Mr. Harper is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, an American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow, and the recipient of numerous awards, including the Robert Hayden Poetry Award from the United Negro College Fund, the Melville-Cane Award, the Claiborne Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Award.
Other Yaddo poets who have recently been honored with the Frost Medal include Gwendolyn Brooks, Barbara Guest, Donald Hall, Josephine Jacobsen, Galway Kinnell, Stanley Kunitz, Denise Levertov, and William Stafford.