Marilyn Nelson has received the Wallace Stevens Award, a lifetime achievement honor given annually by the Academy of American Poets to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. Established in 1994, the award carries a stipend of $100,000. Recipients are nominated and elected by a majority vote of the Academy’s Board of Chancellors.
Marilyn Nelson is one of the four poets who partnered with the Old Lyme Witness Stones Project, creating a tribute in verse to those remembered with Lyme Street plaques. Selected for publication in “Poetry” magazine’s November 2021 issue, the verse cycle captures the unheard voices of those once enslaved in Old Lyme, bringing to life experiences, attitudes, and emotions long ignored and then forgotten.
Nelson captured the experience of those enslaved in historic Lyme in an earlier cycle of poems, The Meeting House (Antrim House, 2016). She served as the Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2001-2006. Current Academy of American Poets Chancellor Kevin Young said:
For decades Marilyn Nelson has written poetry that is insightful, moving, and clear, brimming with history but aimed at the future. That she has often done so for younger readers with all of the same sophistication and seriousness that marks her other verse only makes her achievement all the more remarkable. She has also embodied a tradition of welcoming, gathering, and mentoring other poets, opening up her practice and her spaces, such as Soul Mountain, to support their work. The Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets is the culmination of a career that has garnered praise and prizes from many quarters, and for poetry of all kinds. Whether writing of her father’s generation of Tuskegee Airmen, in the voices of the enslaved speaking of freedom, or about the woman in the mirror, Nelson’s work is necessary and humane, and has led the way on the page and in the world.