News Honorary Degree Citation, Ellen Bryant Voigt
For more than 30 years, you have engaged readers with your fierce and unexpected poetry. Beyond the accolades for your seven volumes of poems, you are commendable for your impact on our appreciation for creative writing and its fundamental role in higher education.
You grew up on a Virginia farm, where you became a serious student of the piano and learned the creative power of solitude and of music. Although you went on to get a bachelor's degree in English from Converse College and your M.F.A. in creative writing from University of Iowa, your piano playing laid the foundation for the vivid imagery and musical patterns in your writing.
"There's no question to me that sound is the generative force," you have said of your own writing process. "Poetry does its work through music, which then allows for exploration of complicated and therefore accurate feelings."
You gained a reputation as a rigorous and memorable mentor at Iowa Wesleyan College, Goddard College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Cincinnati and Washington University. You were a founder of the low-residency M.F.A. program at Goddard College, the first program of its kind, and then created the prestigious, model program at Warren Wilson College.
"Vision and craft are inseparable," you have said. "The hardest part is balancing clarity and mystery, precision and resonance, but it is in this work that the act of making a poem becomes primarily an act of discovery, a lens through which to see the world."
Beyond your regular teaching positions, you have freely shared your creative gifts and insights as a visiting writer-in-residence on 25 campuses and as faculty at 48 conferences, from Aspen Writer's Conference to Breadloaf Writer's Conference here in Vermont. You have served as a poetry judge for more than 70 prizes, from the humble Marlboro Review poetry prize in 1997 to the prestigious Jackson Poetry Prize in 2008.
You enjoyed the admiration of this state when you were Vermont State Poet Laureate, from 1999 to 2003, and of course you still do, but that is just the most obvious honor along your literary ascent. Your 2007 anthology, Messenger: New and Selected Poems, was winner of The Poet's Prize and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Your poetic voice and commitment to writing in higher education resonates strongly with the academic ideals upheld here at Marlboro. Ellen Bryant Voigt, it is our pleasure to confer upon you the degree: Doctor of Letters.
photo by Jeff Woodward