Announcing 2016 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry

Bust of Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt.

Bust of Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt.

Poetry publishers, this one’s for you: The Library of Congress is now accepting nominations for the 2016 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, so start making picks and stuffing envelopes!

The $10,000 prize, first given to James Merrill in 1990, is presented biennially to an American poet for the most distinguished book of poetry published during the previous two years—2014 and 2015 this time—or for lifetime achievement in poetry. The 2014 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Poetry Prize was given to Patricia Smith for her book Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press).

Here’s some history—and romance!—surrounding the origin of the prize, which is made possible by the family of the late Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory:

Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt was one of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s three sisters. Decades before her brother’s presidency, in the 1930s Rebekah was a graduate student in Washington working in the cataloguing department at the Library of Congress. Lo and behold, a fellow Texan—Oscar Price Bobbitt—was working beside Rebekah at the Library.

Skip ahead 50 years. In 1998, their son, the author Philip C. Bobbitt, spoke at the Library and described how his parents’ courtship in the cataloguing department forged a path to their marriage in 1941:

I discovered a cache of old index cards, apparently used as surreptitious notes passed by my parents to each other under the eyes of a superintendent who supposed, perhaps, that Mother was typing Dewey decimals. … On each was typed an excerpt from a poem. The long campaign by which my father moved from conspiratorial co-worker to confidant to suitor was partly played out in the indexing department of the Library.

After Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt’s death in 1978, “my father and I decided to endow a memorial in her honor and, owing to the history I have described, the Library of Congress was suggested as a possible recipient of this memorial,” Philip continued.

And thus, 10 years later, the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry was established at the Library of Congress. Love and literature for the win, folks!

Now, back to logistical matters:

Poetry publishers, please send us your nominations between now and January 1, 2017 (postmark deadline). Guidelines for application and submission can be found here.

One Comment

  1. Attorney Frank Hartman
    October 2, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Great information on who Rebekah!

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