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U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Wright to read from his work at ETSU

Contributed • Updated Oct 11, 2017 at 11:34 PM

JOHNSON CITY – Renowned American poet Charles Wright will visit the East Tennessee State University campus on Wednesday, Oct. 25, for a poetry reading and public interview.

Wright was named to a two-year term as Poet Laureate of the United States in 2014, and among the many honors and awards he has received for his poetry is a Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 poetry collection “Black Zodiac.”

“Charles Wright is a world-class poet,” said Dr. Jesse Graves of the ETSU Department of Literature and Language. “His work integrates many figures from the classic world traditions, like Dante and Tu Fu, with the Modernism of the early 20th century, and some distinctively American elements like Emily Dickinson’s poems and Appalachian folk ballads.

“His poems are also engaged in a kind of spiritual seeking that is skeptical of easy solutions, but retains the yearning for knowledge and understanding. This may sound heavy or dark, but Wright’s poems are often witty and self-deprecating, with a sly sense of humor. I find a remarkable balance in his work, and originality.”

Born in 1935 in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, Wright spent much of his childhood in Kingsport, which Graves says provides the backdrop for some of his most memorable poems. He attended Davidson College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and began reading and writing poetry when he was stationed in Italy with the U.S. Army.

Among his many collections of poetry are such award-winning volumes as “Country Music: Selected Early Poems,” “Scar Tissue” and “Chickamauga.” His most recent collection, “Caribou,” was published in 2014.

Wright taught at the University of California-Davis for several years before returning to the South, where he taught at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville as the Souder Family Professor of English until his retirement. In addition to his Pulitzer Prize, he received the 2013 Bollingen Prize, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 1999, he was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

“No other poet is quite like Charles Wright, and I think that is a primary reason he is universally considered one of the greatest living poets, and why I am so excited he will share his work with our students here at ETSU, and with the community of his native East Tennessee,” Graves said.

Wright will give a public interview, hosted by Graves, at 2 p.m. on Oct. 25 at the Reece Museum, followed by a poetry reading at 7:30 p.m. in the D.P. Culp University Center’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium.

Both events are free and open to the public, and the ETSU Bookstore will offer books for sale at both.

Wright’s visit is sponsored by the Department of Literature and Language as part of its new Creative Writing Initiative.

For more information, call the Department of Literature and Language at 423-439-4339. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

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