Poet Eavan Boland wins PEN award for essay collection

EAVAN BOLAND, director of Stanford’s Creative Writing program and one of Ireland’s leading poets, has won a 2012 PEN Award for creative nonfiction with her acclaimed collection of essays, A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet, published last year by W.W. Norton.

PEN Center USA will fete three honorees and give 11 awards in particular genres at its annual awards festival on Oct. 22 in Beverly Hills. Grove/Atlantic Press publisher and Stanford alumnus MORGAN ENTREKIN will receive the Award of Honor, JOYCE CAROL OATES will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, and CBS correspondent LARA LOGAN will receive the Freedom to Write Award.

In addition to Boland’s award for creative nonfiction, the other genre awards are given for poetry, fiction, research nonfiction, children’s literature, graphic literature, journalism, translation, drama, teleplay and screenplay.  (ANNIE MUMOLO and KRISTEN WIIG will receive the screenplay award for the feature film Bridesmaids.)

“I’m really honored to get the award. And especially from PEN, which is an institution that does so much to advocate for writers,” Boland wrote in an email from Vermont.

Boland has published 10 volumes of poetry – most recently New Collected Poems (2008) and Domestic Violence (2007), and an earlier collected volume, An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967-87 (1996). She has received the Lannan Award for Poetry and an American Ireland Fund Literary Award. She has published a previous volume of prose, Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time. She came to Stanford in 1995.

A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet traces Boland’s own development as a poet, and also offers insights into the work of SYLVIA PLATH, GWENDOLYN BROOKS, ADRIENNE RICH, ELIZABETH BISHOP and the German poet ELIZABETH LANGÄSSER.

Irish author COLM TÓIBÍN named it a “favorite book” – calling it “urgent and wise” – in the Irish Times last year. Britain’s Poetry Review called her “one of the finest and boldest poets of the last half century.”

Boland balances two worlds: free-spirited California and Ireland, a land of historical persecution and occupation, with its “painful memory of a poetry whose archive was its audience,” she said in an Academy of American Poets interview.

“I sought out American poetry because of that powerful, inclusive diversity,” she said. “I always remember I’m an Irish poet there, but at the same time some part of my sense of poetry feels very confirmed by the American achievement.”

In a PBS NewsHour interview last year, Boland said, “I’m really fortunate to be at Stanford. I go home every 10 weeks, but Stanford, apart from being just a wonderful university, is … part of a great conversation.”

The PEN Center USA, founded in 1943, has more than 800 writers including poets, playwrights, essayists, novelists, television and screenwriters, critics, historians, editors, journalists and translators. Incorporated as a nonprofit in 1981, it strives to protect the rights of writers around the world, to stimulate interest in the written word, and to “foster a vital literary community among the diverse writers living in the western United States.”  Among the organization’s activities are public literary events, a mentorship project, literary awards and international human rights campaigns on behalf of censored or imprisoned writers.

— BY CYNTHIA HAVEN, English Department