September 7, 2022

Poet Evie Shockley Will Headline Humanities Council Gala at Morven

By Donald Gilpin

Evie Shockley

Award-winning poet and Rutgers University Professor Evie Shockley will be headlining the New Jersey Council for the Humanities’ (NJCH) 50th Anniversary Gala at Morven Museum & Garden on September 29 at 6 p.m.

“Professor Shockley’s reading will be an ideal centerpiece for a celebration of the public humanities in the Garden State,” said NJCH Executive Director Carin Berkowitz. “Her poetry speaks powerfully to many of the issues — including history, culture, and justice — that the Council has sought to explore in our five decades of work. I’m certain our guests will find her words to be both beautiful and thought-provoking.”

Shockley’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist poetry collection, semiautomatic, is described by the Pulitzer website as “a brilliant leap of faith into the echoing abyss of language, part rap, part rant, part slam, part performance art, that leaves the reader unsettled, challenged — and bettered —by the poet’s words.” Her publisher, Wesleyan University Press, describes the collection as “poetry that acts as a fierce and loving resistance to violence.”

Shockley’s many books of poetry also include suddenly we (forthcoming in March 2023) and the award-winning the new black (2011). Her scholarly work includes Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry, as well as articles in journals and collections including The Black Scholar, New Literary History, The New Emily Dickinson Studies, The Cambridge Companion to American Modernist Poetry, and others.

“The poet Lucille Clifton once remarked that ‘poetry is amateur of life, not just a matter of language,’” said Berkowitz, “and few contemporary poets’ work evinces this truth better than that of Evie Shockley. At a time when so many of us are looking to the cultural sphere for solace, for joy, for a reflection of the most difficult realities about ourselves and our nation, her poetry offers all those gifts and more.”

NJCH Director of Strategic Initiatives and poetry scholar Valerie Popp noted that, in addition to Shockley’s accomplishments as a poet, her work as a literary critic and teacher had “reshaped the world of Black literary and cultural studies, particularly the often-overlooked field of Black experimental poetry and poetics.”

Shockley has also received the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, the Stephen Henderson Award, the Holmes National Poetry Prize, and a variety of fellowships and other honors.  She is the poetry editor at Contemporary Literature and is the Zora Neale Hurston Distinguished Professor of English at Rutgers.

The NJCH gala event will also feature a presentation of the inaugural Stanley N. Katz Prize for Excellence in Public Humanities, which “celebrates the best public humanities work taking place in New Jersey,” according to Berkowitz.

Tickets for the NJCH gala — which will include a cocktail reception, seated dinner, and music, as well as a “humanities moment” with Shockley and the presentation of the Stanley N. Katz Prize — are available at