Aimee Nezkuhumatahil’s ‘Oceanic’ wins coveted 2019 Poetry Award
AUGUST 5, 2019 BY EDWIN B. SMITH
Aimee Nezhukumatathil, professor of English in the university’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, has been selected to receive the award for “Oceanic” (Copper Canyon, 2018).
The MIAL awards, first presented in 1980, are made in seven categories: fiction, nonfiction, visual art, musical composition (concert), musical composition (popular), photography and poetry. The institute’s awards are conferred through a juried competition, the only one of its kind in the state.
“This award is extra special because it’s the first I’ve received from a state I live in,” Nezhukumatathil said. “Mississippi is such a literary powerhouse, so I’m extremely humbled to be in such awe-inspiring company.”
In “Oceanic,” the poet investigates forms of love as diverse and abundant as the ocean itself.
“This book still aims to celebrate joy and wonderment of the natural world and desire like my previous collections, but this one is a more thorough registry of the earth’s wonderful and terrible magic,” she said.
The agency is honored to recognize Nezhukumatathil and “Oceanic” with the award, said Margaret Robbins, MIAL executive secretary.
“Aimee Nezhukumatathil has chosen Mississippi as her adopted home and enthusiastically teaches our young people and future poets in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi,” Robbins said.
“In choosing ‘Oceanic’ for this award, judge Caki Wilkinson stated, ‘This brilliant, buoyant collection, all rendered with a biologist’s precision, an artist’s finesse and a poet’s imagination, is equal parts love song and field guide. It is a book for our often too-gloomy times and a book that is sure to outlast them.’”
Nezhukumatathil, who also teaches environmental literature at UM, said she’s working on a collection of short nature essays to be published by Milkweed Editions next year.
“I’m always working on more poems and essays about what it means to a woman of color who loves this planet and yet worries over advancing climate change,” she said.
The author is most deserving of her latest honor, said Beth Ann Fennelley, UM professor of English.
“Commonly recognized as one of the finest poets of her generation, Nezhukumatathil’s an important observer of the natural world and its human and nonhuman animals,” she said. “Her metaphorical gifts are astonishing, as well as her nuanced feel for the details that make poems visceral and alive. Now, even more Mississippians will know about this remarkable book.”
Nezhukumatathil is the author of three other books of poetry: “Lucky Fish” (2011), “At the Drive-In Volcano” (2007) and “Miracle Fruit” (2003), all from Tupelo Press. She also has written “World of Wonder” (Milkweed Press 2020), a forthcoming book of illustrated nature essays, and collaborated with Ross Gay on “Lace & Pyrite,” a recent chapbook of nature poems.
Her previous honors include publication in the 2018 Best American Poetry Anthology, a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She was the 2016-17 Grisham Writer-in Residence and is also poetry editor of Orion magazine.
For more information about the UM Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, go to https://mfaenglish.olemiss.edu/.