Any poet will tell you that the only thing rarer than meaningful recognition is a meaningful payday. For two outstanding poets each year, the Kingsley and Kate Tufts awards represent both.
The Tufts poetry awards – based at Claremont Graduate University and given for poetry volumes published in the preceding year – are not only two of the most prestigious prizes a contemporary poet can receive, they also come with hefty purses: $100,000 for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and $10,000 for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. This makes the Kingsley Tufts award the world’s largest monetary prize for a single collection of poetry. And for most poets who have just published their first collection of verse, $10,000 should keep the pen scribbling.
Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
Unlike many literary awards, which are coronations for a successful career or body of work, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award was created to both honor the poet and provide the resources that allow artists to continue working towards the pinnacle of their craft.
“Because the award comes to you at mid-career, and is supposed to be a stepping stone and not a tombstone, it nerves you up to try to write up to the mark already set by the previous winners,” said Tom Sleigh, the 2008 recipient.
Kate Tufts – widow of Kingsley Tufts, and creator of the award – had said she wanted to create a prize “that would enable a poet to work on his or her craft for awhile without paying bills.”
“It is a tall order honoring the vision that Kate Tufts set out for us . . . to sustain a poet who is laboring in the difficult middle between first flower and final bloom,” said CGU Associate Professor Patricia Easton, who is the former director of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Awards. “Yet, somehow, the judges have managed to select truly exceptional poets year after year, poets who have gone on to write even greater volumes of poetry.”
Kate Tufts Discovery Award
The Kate Tufts Discovery Award was created in 1994, a year after the inception of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. It is presented to a first book by a poet of genuine promise. The Kate Tufts Discovery Award offers a hefty prize of $10,000.
While the Kate Tufts award offers financial compensation and increased visibility, it also offers additional, intangible benefits. Many poets labor for years without receiving meaningful feedback, save for piles of rejection letters from literary journals and perhaps, for the luckiest and most talented, a handful of published pieces. Even then, while getting a poem published is encouraging, one can never be sure about the audience: its size, its response, or even if it really exists.
“The award is a confidence builder,” said Janice Harrington, the 2008 winner. “It’s that bit of light in the darkness that allows you to see your way, so that you can keep trying to write your best poetry.”
Eric McHenry, who won the 2007 Kate Tufts award for Potscrubber Lullabies, also noted the value of affirmation:
“Writing poetry is hard work, not least because it requires me to convince myself that the world needs my poems. The best thing about winning this award is the feeling that my book has found some enthusiastic readers, that it isn’t so unwelcome in the world.”
During the holiday season for a number of decades, Kate and Kingsley invited a living room full of friends to engage in a joyous poetry reading. At the 1991 gathering, Kingsley finished his reading, closed his eyes, and died.
For nearly a year, Kate pondered which institution should be approached to realize her dream–a special kind of award to honor a poet with Kingsley’s name and a stipend.
Her cousin, my friend Norman Clement, urged me that summer to call upon her and tell her of my interest–and the then-Claremont Graduate School’s–in her vision. It blossomed–love at first sight–into the awards program we continue to celebrate today.
Poets of every stripe have contributed, creating a bouquet of surrounding depth and beauty: a genuine national treasure. It has grown into a major award and the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards is one of the most cherished legacies of my presidency.
-John Maguire, President, Claremont Graduate School, 1981-1998
The Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards are housed in CGU’s School of Arts & Humanities. Past Directors of the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards have included Lori Anne Ferrell, Wendy Martin, Patricia Easton, Jack Miles, and others. For additional information, please contact Awards coordinator Genevieve Kaplan.