Poet Carl Phillips

Carl Phillips, recipient of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, began writing poems as a youth and has become one of the nation’s most recognized authors of prose.

Carl Phillips had been out with his partner having a margarita last Monday, returned home and was about to walk his dog when his Twitter and email accounts suddenly had a flurry of activity.

“Why is everybody trying to contact me?” wondered Phillips, a professor in the Washington University English department.

He soon learned that he has been named recipient of a 2023 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The poet was awarded the prize for "Then the War: And Selected Poems, 2007-2020."

“I still have yet to hear from them,” Phillips said with a laugh on Tuesday. “I contacted my publisher to find out if it’s real. It’s real.” Phillips said he began writing poems as a youth “for fun.” “I never thought I would be a poet,” he said.

He continued authoring poems, and while serving as a high school teacher in Massachusetts, he entered a poetry contest. One first-place prize later, Phillips was on the way to being a published author of poems and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

"The new poems, written in a time of rising racial conflict in the United States, with its attendant violence and uncertainty, find Phillips entering deeper into the landscape he has made his own: a forest of intimacy, queerness, and moral inquiry, where the farther we go, the more difficult it is to remember why or where we started," the Pulitzer Prize announcement said of the collection.

“Then the War includes a generous selection of Phillips’s work from the previous 13 years, as well as his recent lyric prose memoir, “Among the Trees,” and his chapbook, Star Map with Action Figures.

“Ultimately, Phillips refuses pessimism, arguing for tenderness and human connection as profound forces for revolution and conjuring a spell against indifference and the easy escapes of nostalgia. Then the War is luminous testimony to the power of self-reckoning and to Carl Phillips as an ever-changing, necessary voice in contemporary poetry.”

The prize includes $15,000 and is awarded annually for a "distinguished volume of original verse by an American author."

Phillips’ other awards include the 2001 Pushcart Prize for “To the Tune of a Small, Repeatable, and Passing Kindness,” the 2002 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize for "The Tether" and the 2021 Jackson Poetry Prize.

Phillips has been a professor in the Department of English and the African and Afro-American Studies Program since 2000 and was previously the director of the university's writing program.

“I came to Washington University for a part-time job. I was just going to be in St. Louis for three years. Three years turned into 30 years,” he said.

According to the university's website, Phillips is the fifth faculty member to win a Pulitzer Prize, including four for poetry or poetry letters.

Phillips' first book, In the Blood, won the 1992 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize and was heralded as the work of “an outstanding newcomer in the field of contemporary poetry.”

He is the author of 15 books, including Wild Is the Wind (FSG, 2018), and The Tether.

His prose books are The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (2014) and Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry (2004), and he has translated Sophocles’s Philoctetes (2004). 

A finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, his other honors include the Lambda Literary Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation Poetry Award, the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Academy of American Poets, for which he served as Chancellor from 2006-2012. 

His academic interests include classical philology, translation, and the history of prosody in English.

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.