This Thursday, December 6, at the Library of Congress, Jorie Graham will receive the 2018 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and read selections from her 2017 winning collection Fast. The event will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Memorial Building. Free tickets are still available.
The $10,000 prize, made possible by the family of the late Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt, is awarded biennially to an American poet for the most distinguished book of poetry published during the previous two years—2016 and 2017 this time around—or for lifetime achievement in poetry. Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt was one of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s three sisters. In the early 1930s, she was a graduate student in D.C., where she also worked in the cataloging department at the Library of Congress. It was here at the Library where she met and fell in love with fellow cataloger Oscar Price Bobbitt. The two were married in 1941. After her death in 1978, Oscar Bobbitt and his son, Philip, endowed a prize to the Library of Congress in Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt’s memory.
In summer 2018, over the span of six weeks, the three appointed prize jurors read and discussed the nearly 200 books submitted for prize consideration. This year’s panel of judges comprised Mojave American poet and Lannan Literary Fellow Natalie Diaz, selected by U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith; James Laughlin Award winner and Guggenheim Fellow Catherine Barnett, selected by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden; and Betty Sue Flowers, former director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, selected by the Bobbitt family.
About their selection of Jorie Graham’s Fast, the jury wrote, “‘the year is 1490, 380, 1774, 10 BCE’ and the title describes the speed at which time leaps ahead and rewinds in this mortality-haunted, panic-inducing beauty of a collection as intellectual as it is felt. Graham’s astonishing abstract intelligence is tethered in almost every line by the sensory, by the music of language and wordplay, and by the material world that makes the red sleepmask a father cries out for in his last days into a metaphor for the human ‘timestorm’ we inhabit, share, grieve.”
“I’m incredibly grateful to the Library of Congress for awarding the Bobbitt Prize to Fast,” Jorie Graham told The Boston Globe on receiving the prize. “The idea that the sister of Lyndon Johnson is the source of this award is deeply moving—returning me to his legislative achievements in the creation of so many programs for Americans at risk today.”
Jorie Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 (2015); Place (2012), winner of the Forward Prize; and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1996. Her honors include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She is the recipient of the 2017 Wallace Stevens Award, the Nonino Prize in 2013, and the LA Times Book Award Prize in Poetry in 2016 for From the New World. Graham is currently the Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric at Harvard University, a position first held by John Quincy Adams in 1806.