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Friday, September 30, 2022

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SDSU Poetry Professor Wins National Prize

Marilyn Chin joins Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston as a recipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

Marilyn Chin has received the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for “Hard Love Province,” her fourth volume of poems.

A professor in San Diego State University’s master of fine arts program, Chin is among the most celebrated living American poets. Previous recipients of the Anisfield-Wolf Award include Toni Morrison, Martin Luther King Jr., Louise Erdich, Junot Diaz, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf established the prize in 1935 in honor of her father, John Anisfield, and husband, Eugene Wolf, to reflect her family’s passion for social justice. Today it remains the only American book prize for works that address racism and diversity.

Sad and beautiful

Chin’s poetry, distinguished by insight and finesse, is a cross-fertilization of many cultures and styles, often blending Eastern and Western forms to address the complexities of biculturalism, feminism and Asian identity.

“I always try to speak to the most vulnerable brown girl in the room,” she said.

Rita Dove, an Anisfield-Wolf juror and Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, said of Chin’s work: “In these sad and beautiful poems, a withering portrayal of our global society emerges—from Buddha to Allah, Mongols to Bethesda boys, Humvee to war horse Dachau to West Darfur, Irrawaddy River to San Diego.”

Transnational poet

Chin said initially she thought the phone call informing her of the award was a student prank.

In fact, the caller was the celebrated scholar and educator Henry Louis Gates, chair of the selection committee. He contacted her in Hong Kong, while she was en route to Beijing to work on a translation of her poems into Chinese.

“I was pleasantly surprised to receive his message over my cell phone an ocean away,” Chin said. “Such is the life of a transnational Chinese American poet!”

Juicy and important ideas

"Hard Love Province,” published in 2014, began as “song ballads and elegies for the beloved, written mostly in what I call Chinese American quatrains,” Chin explained.

“Then, the book fills up with haiku, sonnets and prose poems dealing with a variety of issues: love, death, sex, racism, war, historical injustices, human rights, exile and immigration, feminist and children’s issues—all kinds of juicy and important ideas.”

During her career, Chin has won a United Artist Foundation Fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard, a Stegner Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan, two awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and five Pushcart Prizes.