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Vermont Quarterly

Guggenheim honors UVM poet, professor

Professor Major Jackson
photograph by Bob Handelman

THE GREEN /
ENGLISH

Guggenheim honors UVM poet, professor

Major Jackson, poet and Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor of English, has been selected for a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship.

The prestigious fellowship supports Jackson’s proposal to pursue the intriguing story of Edmonia Lewis, an African-American woman who studied at Oberlin College before the Civil War, stood trial for the alleged poisoning of her roommates, was acquitted, and went on to become an internationally acclaimed sculptor, living most of her life in Rome. It’s a story with many twists and unknowns, of a woman who, in many ways, transcended her race given the time in which she lived, and in others, even in a progressive place like Oberlin, could not.

“She didn’t respect the boundaries between races,” Jackson says, and she was kidnapped, brutally beaten and left in a field after she was accused. Her lawyer, John Mercer Langston—great uncle of the poet Langston Hughes—provides the primary source for her story. Jackson’s ambition is to write a verse play about her trial, placed within history yet using modern techniques to appeal to a contemporary audience.

Jackson is the author of three collections of poetry: Holding Company, Hoops and Leaving Saturn, which was awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. As for the Guggenheim honor, Jackson says: “It is good to follow in the long tradition of poets I’ve admired who have also been awarded a Guggenheim. It is fortifying and affirming.”

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