Library of Congress Awards Bobbitt Poetry Prizes
Washington, D.C. — The Library of Congress will award the 2020 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry to Terrance Hayes, for his book “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin,” and to former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey for lifetime achievement.
The poets will receive their honors during a virtual ceremony Thursday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. ET on the Library’s Facebook page at facebook.com/libraryofcongress and YouTube channel at youtube.com/loc. The public is invited to attend this virtual event.
The 2020 prize — the 16th to be given — is awarded for the most distinguished book of poetry published in the preceding two years, 2018 and 2019, and for lifetime achievement in poetry. Hayes’ book, “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin,” was published by Penguin Books in 2018. Trethewey is the author of five poetry collections, most recently “Monument: Poems New and Selected,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018.
“We are thrilled by the news that Terrance Hayes and Natasha Trethewey have won the 2020 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry,” said Philip Bobbitt, son of Rebekah. “We congratulate not only the gifted winners but also the dedicated jurors.”
The panel of jurors for this year’s prize included poet and former executive director of the Poetry Society of America Elise Paschen, selected by 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Joy Harjo; former Indiana poet laureate Adrian Matejka, selected by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden; and scholar Betty Sue Flowers, selected by the Bobbitt family.
The Bobbitt jury noted that Hayes’ “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin” (2018) “transforms the classic sonnet into a startling, American version” and that “Hayes navigates America’s political history, art and poetics in unexpected and timely ways that transform our understanding of both our history and ourselves.”
Hayes, a recipient of the National Book Award, has published six collections of poetry. His most recent is “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin,” which received the 2019 Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award for poetry and was a finalist for numerous prizes. Hayes’ other honors include a Whiting Writers Award, an NAACP Image Award for Poetry and a Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2014, he received a MacArthur Fellowship. Hayes was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2017 and serves as an ex officio member of the academy’s board of directors. He is currently a professor of English at New York University.
Trethewey is the author of five collections of poetry and two books of nonfiction. She served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014), during which she launched her signature project, “Where Poetry Lives,” with the PBS NewsHour. Her latest book is “Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir.”
The Bobbitt jury noted that Trethewey’s latest work of poetry, “Monument,” (2018) “reveals the arc of her poems as a poignant and compelling new narrative. The collection illuminates her far-reaching range while also serving as a testament to the integrity of her poetic vision.” Trethewey has also served as the state poet laureate of Mississippi. She is a recipient of many fellowships, including from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. Trethewey is currently the Board Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University.
The biennial Bobbitt Prize, which carries a $10,000 award, recognizes a book of poetry written by an American and published during the preceding two years, or the lifetime achievement of an American poet, or both. The prize is donated by the family of Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt of Austin, Texas, in her memory, and awarded at the Library of Congress. Bobbitt was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s sister. While a graduate student in Washington during the 1930s, Rebekah Johnson met college student O.P. Bobbitt when they both worked in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress. They married and returned to Texas.
Past winners of the Bobbitt Prize can be viewed at loc.gov/programs/poetry-and-literature/prizes/bobbitt-prize/.