Pitt Alumnus Terrance Hayes Wins National Book Award for Poetry

Issue Date: 
November 29, 2010
Terrance HayesTerrance Hayes

University of Pittsburgh alumnus Terrance Hayes has been named a 2010 National Book Award winner for Lighthead (Penguin, 2010), his fourth collection of poetry.

A description of the book on the National Book Foundation Web site reads, “In his fourth collection, Terrance Hayes investigates how we construct experience. With one foot firmly grounded in the everyday and the other hovering in the air, his poems braid dream and reality into a poetry that is both dark and buoyant. ... This innovative collection presents the light-headedness of a mind trying to pull against gravity and time. Fueled by an imagination that enlightens, delights, and ignites, Lighthead leaves us illuminated and scorched.”

Patricia E. Beeson, Pitt provost and senior vice chancellor, said “The University’s graduate programs in English are known for a long tradition of innovative leadership in their respective areas, including creative writing. I am delighted that the strength of the MFA program is being recognized again through this well-deserved acknowledgement of Terrance Hayes’ work.”

A professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, Hayes earned a BA from Coker College in Hartsville, S.C., and an MFA in writing from Pitt in 1997.

“It’s so wonderful for him, the University, and the city. It’s a national recognition that says a lot about Pitt’s MFA program,” said poet Toi Derricotte, Pitt award-winning professor of English who served on Hayes’ MFA committee. “He has always been a person determined to be a really great writer, and our MFA program is a place where you can learn to do that. We have a diverse group of professors, which enables writers like Terrance to try different kinds of work. He is a poet who takes risks.”

According to Derricotte, Hayes was involved in a social and very rigorous community of poets and instructors while at Pitt. He was instrumental in bringing students together with other poets in the city. He also served as Derricotte’s graduate assistant and the first staff person for Cave Canem, a nationwide fellowship founded in 1996 by Derricotte and poet Cornelius Eady that cultivates the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.

Hayes’ other books of poetry are Wind in a Box (Penguin, 2006), which was named one of the best 100 books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly; Hip Logic (Penguin, 2002), winner of the 2001 National Poetry Series Open Competition and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award; and Muscular Music (Tia Chucha, 1999), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

Among Hayes’ many honors are the Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, three Best American Poetry selections, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, and The New Yorker and has been featured on the PBS NewsHour.

At Carnegie Mellon, Hayes developed Out Poetry, a readings-in-poetry course that explores the intersections of poetry and the public sphere. He has conducted workshops in prisons and high schools and at colleges and universities throughout the country.