Stephen Gibson Named 2017 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Winner

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Stephen Gibson has won the 2017 Miller Williams Poetry Prize, judged by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

Gibson won for his book Self-Portrait in a Door-Length Mirror. The finalists for the prize were Jennifer Givhan, for Protection Spell; Laura McCullough, for The Wild Night Dress; and Frances Schenkkan, for Mr. Stevens’ Secretary.

The University of Arkansas Press will publish all four books in the spring of 2017. Gibson will receive the $5,000 cash prize that is awarded annually to the winner and is funded by an endowment established through a concert given by Williams’s daughter, Lucinda Williams, a Grammy-award-winning singer and songwriter.

Miller Williams, an accomplished poet and translator, was the founding director of the University of Arkansas Press. He published Collins’ first collection, The Apple that Astonished Paris, in 1988. From that early success Collins embarked on his remarkable career, which included two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate. The New York Times has called him “the most popular poet in America,” and the level of sales for his many books is nearly unheard of in the poetry world.

Over the years Collins has remained appreciative of Williams and the University of Arkansas Press for publishing his first book. In the series editor’s preface for the 2017 books, Collins wrote, “Judging this prize, which is named in honor of the co-founder and director of the press, gives me the opportunity to pass on the gift that Miller Williams gave to me, the publication of a book of poems, in some cases a first book. For a poet, in terms of sheer thrills, there is no publication that matches his or her first book. With all this in mind, it follows that serving as judge for the Miller Williams Poetry Prize given by the University of Arkansas Press is a great pleasure for me.”

In selecting the books for the series, Collins seeks out poetry not necessarily like his own or Williams’, but rather something he believes Williams would have liked. Collins has said that Williams valued poems that “show a courteous, engaging awareness for the presence of a reader,” and that “a plain-spoken poem did not have to be imaginatively plain.”

The four 2017 Williams Prize finalists come from diverse backgrounds.

Gibson lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, and is retired from Palm Beach State College. His previous poetry collections are The Garden of Earthly Delights of Ghazals, Rorschach Art Too, Paradise, Frescoes, Masaccios’s Expulsion, and Rorschach Art.

Givhan lives in Albuquerque. She is poetry editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal and teaches at The Poetry Barn. She is the author of Landscape with Headless Mama.

McCullough lives in Little Silver, New Jersey, and teaches at Brookdale Community College. Her most recent book of poems is Jersey Mercy. Her other collections include Rigger Death & Hoist Another, Panic, Speech Acts, and What Men Want. She is also the editor of two anthologies.

Schenkkan lives in Austin, Texas, and is a former newspaper reporter. Mr. Stevens’ Secretary is her first book.

About the University of Arkansas Press: The University of Arkansas Press was founded in 1980 as the book publishing division of the University of Arkansas. A member of the Association of American University Presses, it has as its central and continuing mission the publication of books that serve both the broader academic community and Arkansas and the region.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Melissa King, director of sales and marketing
University of Arkansas Press

Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
University Relations


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