Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Books

Poet David Kirby receives Florida Humanities Council's lifetime achievement in writing award

Lifetime achievement awards, David Kirby says, are usually handed out by organizations like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "So I see this as the equivalent of the Oscar."

"This" is the news that Kirby, a talented and prolific poet and essayist and the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University, has been named the seventh recipient of the Florida Humanities Council's Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing. An independent panel of five judges (of which I was one) selected him from a field of 19 nominees, calling him "one of Florida's literary treasures."

Speaking from his home in Tallahassee, where he lives with his wife, Barbara Hamby (also a poet and FSU faculty member), Kirby says of the honor, "I take this as encouragement. I take it as my marching orders from the Florida Humanities Council: Get out there and get to work!"

No problem for Kirby, who at 71 is teaching a full load at FSU, just published a book in December and has another on the way. Even he isn't sure how many books he has published. "If you pin me down, I'll say 34 books," he says, as well as hundreds of book reviews and essays. Most of his books are poetry collections, the newest of which, Get Up, Please, will be published in March. His collection The House on Boulevard St. was a finalist for the National Book Award for poetry in 2007.

Typically Kirby's poems are constructed of long lines shaped into stanzas, often narrative in form and filled with exuberant wit. He writes about his own life and mashes up high culture and low — Walmart and Beethoven and Hitler, in just one of his poems — and comes up with surprising insights. Just as he draws material from many sources, he also has cited a wide range of influences on his work, from John Keats to Little Richard.

"As a poet you go from absolute obscurity to relative obscurity," Kirby says, "and when I went to relative obscurity people asked me to write about poetry and talk about poetry.

"Then about 10 years ago I re-invented myself as a music journalist, and that's how the Little Richard book happened," he says of his fascinating nonfiction book Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll. In December he published Crossroad: Artist, Audience, and the Making of American Music, which ranges from the origins of the folk song John Henry to Elvis and Nirvana.

"I know this award was given to me for my books," Kirby says, "but teaching is just as important as writing for me."

Kirby, who was born in Baton Rouge, La., graduated from Louisiana State University and earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. On the faculty of FSU since 1969, he estimates he has taught at least 2,000 students.

"I think of us as studying together, rather than me thundering at them from a height," he says. "The way I see it, I'm training the next generation of poets and writers, and they'll train the next one after that."

Kirby is also renowned as an entertaining performer of his poems; in a recent review, fellow poet Tony Hoagland described him as "doing stand up in the Tiki Room of American poetry."

Kirby says, "I have very strong feelings about people preparing for any kind of performance. I look out there and see people who could be doing other things. I've read for audiences of around 700, and I've read for two people. That's my range. Everybody gets the same show, and it's the best show I can make it."

The Florida Lifetime Achievement Award is the latest of the many awards and honors Kirby has received, among them the Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. He is a repeat medalist in the Florida Book Awards, has won grants from the Florida Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, and has been published several times in yearly volumes of The Best American Poetry.

He will receive the FHC award in April at a luncheon at the Governor's Mansion. In the meantime, he says, he's been working on an essay about Cuba after traveling there last fall.

"I make things more real to myself by writing."

Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

Comments
‘JELL-O Girls’ author Allie Rowbottom reading books on identity and culture

‘JELL-O Girls’ author Allie Rowbottom reading books on identity and culture

Allie RowbottomRowbottom comes from the family that made Jell-O a household name. It was her great-great-great-uncle, Orator Woodward, who bought the formula and patent from a neighbor in LeRoy, N.Y., for $450 in 1899. However, in her new book, JELL-...
Published: 08/17/18
Review: James Swain’s ‘The King Tides’ a swift Florida mystery

Review: James Swain’s ‘The King Tides’ a swift Florida mystery

Most parents of pretty teenage daughters are prepared to see boys mooning over their girls.But the parents of Nicki Pearl are not prepared for the growing number of adult men — all of them strangers — who seem to be stalking their daughter in the thr...
Published: 08/16/18
Review: Eleanor Kriseman’s assured debut, ‘The Blurry Years,’ an affecting coming-of-age story

Review: Eleanor Kriseman’s assured debut, ‘The Blurry Years,’ an affecting coming-of-age story

With the first lines of The Blurry Years, Eleanor Kriseman pulls us right into its young narrator’s world:"We could hear them in the walls before we saw them. My mom said it might be mice. We were eating dinner in bed. We would have eaten dinner in t...
Published: 08/10/18

Book events: Jeff Klinkenberg, Literature and the Environment: Readings by Tampa Bay Authors

Book TalkFormer Tampa Bay Times Real Florida columnist Jeff Klinkenberg (Son of Real Florida: Stories From My Life) will discuss photographer Clyde Butcher and Real Florida at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Dali Museum, One Dali Boulevard, St. Petersburg. Wo...
Published: 08/08/18
Bancroft: Despite his thorny place in culture, Raymond Chandler remains a great love

Bancroft: Despite his thorny place in culture, Raymond Chandler remains a great love

Some writers you enjoy, some writers you admire.A handful of writers you love, and one of my handful is Raymond Chandler.His seven novels, published between 1939 and 1958, were transformational for me when I first read them in the 1970s. They sparked...
Updated one month ago
Novelist Seth Greenland reading works by Hazzard, Abbey and more

Novelist Seth Greenland reading works by Hazzard, Abbey and more

Seth GreenlandNovelist Greenland returns to his roots by setting his new book, The Hazards of Good Fortune, in New York City and neighboring Westchester. The protagonist is Jay Gladstone, an heir to a massive real estate fortune, owner of an NBA team...
Updated one month ago
Review: Ace Atkins’ ‘The Sinners’ a bloody, and funny, trip to the altar

Review: Ace Atkins’ ‘The Sinners’ a bloody, and funny, trip to the altar

There’s always so much to deal with in the weeks before your wedding. For Quinn Colson, there’s his mother’s threat to sing Elvis karaoke if he doesn’t hire a band, the question of whether his long-gone stuntman daddy will show up at all, his bride-t...
Updated one month ago
In September, Bouchercon will be the place to be for Tampa Bay mystery fans

In September, Bouchercon will be the place to be for Tampa Bay mystery fans

If you’re a mystery fan, the Tampa Bay area will be the perfect place for you in September.On Sept. 6-9, Bouchercon 2018, the premier annual event for readers, authors and all lovers of crime fiction, comes to the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Res...
Updated one month ago