Auburn museum’s ‘Third Thursday Poetry’ hosting Witness Poetry Prize winner

Published: October 14, 2019
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The Auburn University Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art’s literary arts program, “Third Thursday Poetry,” will present a reading by the 2019 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize winner, Dante Di Stefano, on Thursday, Oct. 17, at 6 p.m.

“Third Thursday Poetry” is a monthly series that hosts award-winning poets from across the country. Each October, the series presents a special reading by the winner of Auburn’s Witness Poetry Prize in tandem with a reading by the contest’s guest judge. The award is given annually for a poem of witness in honor of the late poet and Auburn alumnus, Jake Adam York.

York, who died in 2012 at age 40, was a celebrated poet and fifth-generation Alabamian who first honed his literary gifts as a student working with Auburn’s Department of English faculty. York went on to author four collections of poetry, including the highly lauded 2008 “A Murmuration of Starlings,” an elegiac work in memory of the martyrs of the Civil Rights movement.

“It’s a great honor to receive an award named after Jake Adam York,” Di Stefano said in an interview with the “Southern Humanities Review” earlier this year. “His collection ‘A Murmuration of Starlings’ provides such a profound examination of the Civil Rights-era South with an eye to the history that bookends that era.”

Like previous years’ winners, Di Stefano receives a $1,000 prize, publication in the “Southern Humanities Review”—Auburn University’s literary quarterly and sponsor of the contest—and travel expenses to Auburn to give a live poetry reading.

Vievee Francis, the nationally acclaimed poet who served as this year’s guest judge, conferred the Witness Prize on Di Stefano.

Francis is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College. She is the recipient of a 2009 Rona Jaffe Award and a 2010 Kresge Artist Fellowship, as well as winner of the 2016 Hurst-Wright Legacy Award and 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for her third collection of poems, “Forest Primeval.” She earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan and was poet-in-residence there from 2009-10. Prior to her tenure at Dartmouth, Francis taught writing and poetry at a number of other colleges and universities, including North Carolina State University and Warren Wilson College.

“Her collection, ‘Forest Primeval,’ puts her in the top tier of American poets,” Di Stefano said. “She’s the kind of poet I aspire to be. Having her even read my work is a great honor.”

Francis is unable to attend the museum’s Third Thursday Poetry event and Auburn Witness Poetry Prize presentation. The program will feature an extended reading by Di Stefano.

Di Stefano is the author of two poetry collections, “Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight” in 2016 and “Ill Angels” in 2019. His poetry, essays and reviews have appeared in “Best American Poetry 2018,” “The Sewanee Review,” “The Writer’s Chronicle” and elsewhere. Di Stefano earned a doctorate in English from Binghamton University and for the past 12 years has taught English at Union-Endicott High School in upstate New York.

Di Stefano was awarded the 2019 Witness Poetry Prize for “Burning Churches,” a poem that examines the history of racism and racially motivated violence in America.

“In ‘Burning Churches,’ I’m bearing witness to a series of discourses, and to the reportage on a series of real events, which are linked to a long history of terror,” Di Stefano said. “I’m also bearing witness to what it’s like to be alive in the United States in 2019, in a nation that has succumbed to a reality TV ontology.”

“Third Thursday Poetry” is free and open to the public. Following the reading, Di Stefano will be available for a book signing, with a limited number of copies of his work “Ill Angels” available for purchase in the Museum Shop. Attendees are welcomed to enjoy drinks and small bites in Luster, the museum café, open 5-8 p.m. Purchases at Luster and the Museum Shop help the ongoing support of museum activities.

The “Third Thursday Poetry” series is presented by the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, with additional support by the Auburn University College of Liberal Arts, the Auburn University Department of English and the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

Guests are also encouraged to explore current museum exhibitions, “Creative Cadences: Works by Roger and Greg Brown,” on view through Nov. 3, “Please Play Again: The Art of Janet Nolan” and “Southern Interiors: Photographs from The Do Good Fund,” both on view through Jan. 5., and “The Unfolding Center: Art and Poetry by Susan York and Arthur Sze.” For more information, visit jcsm.auburn.edu.

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