Pulitzer Prize winning poet Stephen Dunn (1939-2021) wrote poems about the simple things in life and the complexities they encompassed. He was the author of 20 collections of poetry, including the recent Keeper of Limits (Sarabande 2015), Lines of Defense (Norton 2014), and What Goes On: Selected & New Poems 1995-2009. Different Hours won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, and Loosestrife was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in 1996. Other W.W. Norton books are New & Selected Poems: 1974-1994, Landscape at the End of the Century, Between Angels, and Riffs & Reciprocities: Prose Pairs. Dunn worked on many of those books during a dozen residences that stretched from 1992 to 2016.
According to The New York Times, beginning with his first full-length collection, Looking for Holes in the Ceiling in 1974, Dunn wrote about “surviving, coping with, and looking for meaning in the ordinary passages of middle-class life,” touching on marriage, aging, and other natural occurrences. His final book, The Not Yet Fallen World, is expected to be published in 2022.
Before embarking on literary pursuits, Dunn was a star basketball player for Forest Hills High School in New York, from which he graduated in 1957. He was then guard on the team at Hofstra University, including on the team that went 23-1 in his sophomore season. After graduating from Hofstra in 1962 with a history degree, he played professionally for one season with the Williamsport Billies of the Eastern Basketball Association. He then worked in advertising before going to Spain to write a novel. As a 29-year-old he returned to the U.S. and enrolled in the creative writing program at Syracuse University where he started to pursue poetry, earning a master’s in 1970.
In addition to The Pulitzer Prize, Dunn was honored with The American Academy of Arts & Letters Award in Literature and The Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement. His poem “The Imagined” was included in The Best of the Best American Poetry: 1988-2012 (Scribners, 2013). Other achievements include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, three NEA Creative Writing Fellowships, a Distinguished Artist Fellowship from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the Levinson and Oscar Blumenthal Prizes from Poetry, the Theodore Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest, the James Wright Prize from Mid-American Review, and many others. He was Distinguished Professor (emeritus) of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and also taught at Columbia University, NYU, University of Michigan, Princeton, and the University of Washington. He spent most of his time in Frostburg, where he lived with wife, the writer Barbara Hurd. Stephen Dunn died from complications due to Parkinson’s disease on June 24th, his 82nd birthday, at home.