On Monday it was announced that NYU English Professor Sharon Olds won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She won for a collection of poems entitled “Stag’s Leap”. From 1998-2000 Olds was the Poet Laureate of New York State. She had previously published 11 volumes of poetry and now teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at NYU.
She joins literary figures like Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, and John Steinbeck who have won the Pulitzer Prize in the past. The first Prize was given in 1917. Each year 103 judges are selected to serve on 20 separate juries to determine a winner in each of the 21 categories from thousands of applicants.
Olds wrote the poems contained in Stags Leap to cope with her marriage of 32 years coming to a close in 1997. She decided to publish them a decade and a half later after her children were adults. She told the Huffington Post “I had to tune each poem, and tune the book, to get the balance of its qualities feeling right to me; the idealizing, the anger, the self-pity”. The Pulitzer Prize Board called the volume “a book of unflinching poems” that “examine love, sorrow and the limits of self-knowledge”.
Olds told The Huffington Post that winning the Prize took her by surprise, she said “I was out on the porch, holding the phone, and in some way the words I heard didn’t make sense to me, and the light in the yard got both brighter and a little cloudy”. She continued, “I think I was in shock. It was beyond unexpected. There are things we think won’t happen to us, that are outside our picture of ourselves”.
She will be awarded the physical medal as well as the $10,000 reward at a luncheon in late May.
If you’re not familiar with her work, get to know it. Now.