“Marilyn Nelson recognizes that, like gods and nature, words are awesome—impressive, daunting, inspiring great fear and great admiration—and for the rest of her life, up to the present, she invites young readers to share in the awe, so their lives may be altered ultimately for the better.” – Hayan Charara
Marilyn Nelson is the author or translator of some twenty books and five chapbooks of poetry for adults and children. While most of her work deals with historical subjects, in 2014 she published a memoir, named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014, entitled How I Discovered Poetry—a series of fifty poems about growing up in the 1950s in a military family, each poem stamped with a place and date from the many places they lived, including Oklahoma.
In nominating Nelson for the 2017 NSK Prize, poet Hayan Charara wrote: “The language she uses is simple but not simplistic. The ideas and experiences can be complex and weighty, but—as with her other works—Nelson handles them with care and deliberateness, not lessening or lightening the depth of her subjects, but transforming them so that they rise to the occasion.”
Her honors include two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, an A.C.L.S. Contemplative Practices Fellowship, the Department of the Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, a fellowship from the J. S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Frost Medal—the Poetry Society of America’s most prestigious award, for a “distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry.” In 2017 she was awarded the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award, the NSK Prize, and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry.
“I can say this: I knew and read her poems long before I realized the awards given to them, and when I finally realized just how honored the work had been, it was no surprise at all.” – Hayan Charara
A chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and poet-in-residence of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Nelson is an emeritus professor of English at the University of Connecticut, was founder/director and host of Soul Mountain Retreat (2004–2010), and held the office of Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001 to 2006.