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MacArthur-winning poet to read, discuss work at ASU

January 26, 2011

Eleanor Wilner, winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, will read her poetry and discuss her work Feb. 23 at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

Wilner, whose most recent book is “Tourist in Hell,” will talk about her poetry at 2 p.m. in a Public Craft Q&A in Piper Writers House, and will read and sign books at 7:45 p.m. in Recital Hall in the Music Building. Both events are free.

Wilner is the author of seven books of poems, including “The Girl With Bees in Her Hair” and “Reversing the Spell: New & Collected Poems 1998.”

She also has published a translation of Euripides’ “Medea” in the Penn Greek Series, University of Pennsylvania Press, and a book on visionary imagination, “Gathering the Winds.”

Her poems appear in more than 40 anthologies; her awards include the Juniper Prize and three Pushcart Prizes.

Wilner holds an interdepartmental Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and teaches at several colleges and universities. She is a lifelong activist for civil rights and peace.

Wilner’s poetry comes from what she calls “cultural memory.” She told Internet magazine Drunken Boat that she first encountered the concept of cultural memory from Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who was reported to have said, ‘I have no personal memory, only a cultural memory.’

"I remember reading this with an enormous sense of relief, as this was precisely my own experience,” she told Drunken Boat. “So much of the past cried out for utterance, especially all that had been silent, or silenced.

"In order to validate my experience of poetic vision, I studied comparative mythology and anthropology, looking at new visions to understand their source, and saw the ways in which collective vision always began with a communal crisis and an individual who, in essence, dreamed for the community.

“This is what I think a poet does, and I think our culture has made us shallow and dreamless by inculcating the myth that the individual is defined and set apart by his or her own personal experience."

Wilner’s visit is part of the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series sponsored by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU.

For more information about the Q&A or reading, contact the Piper Center, (480) 965-6018, or


Media Contacts:
Tom McDermott,
(480) 727-0818