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September 25, 2014

Pitt poet wins MacArthur award

Terrance Hayes

Terrance Hayes

“It’s like the five stages of grief, except it’s joy,” says English faculty member Terrance Hayes of being named a MacArthur Fellowship recipient then being forced to remain silent about it.

Beyond telling his wife, fellow faculty member Yona Harvey, who was with him when he received the MacArthur Foundation’s call earlier this month, he was sworn to secrecy until the news was released publicly two weeks later — by which time he’d progressed from the initial denial and disbelief stage to acceptance.

Hayes said he’d never imagined receiving the award — poets have been few among the 900-plus recipients over the course of the award’s 33-year history. “Never did I think that I would be on the list,” he says.

Hayes is among 21 recipients of the 2014 “genius grant” fellowships awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The awards provide a $625,000 stipend, paid quarterly over five years, and are designed to encourage talented individuals to “pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations,” according to the foundation.

MacArthur fellows are chosen by a selection committee of leaders in arts, sciences, humanities and the for-profit and nonprofit communities, based on the recommendation of invited nominators from a broad range of fields. Applications and unsolicited nominations are not accepted.

Typically, 20-30 of the no-strings-attached fellowships are awarded each year to individuals selected for their “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”

Hayes, who is on teaching release this term to work on a long prose project, said he plans to return to the classroom in spring as scheduled. “Typically, people do take off. That’s not my first impulse,” he says, adding that he wants to continue in the environment that created the circumstances for the award: maintaining his relationships with other writers, support from the University, and the teaching that he says fuels his creativity and keeps his mind alert.

“I want things to be what they are,” he says.

Hayes said he’s been considering how his award might benefit nonprofits or poetry organizations with which he’s affiliated, among them Cave Canem, which holds an annual writing retreat on the Pitt-Greensburg campus.


TerranceHayesHayes earned a Master of Fine Arts in writing at Pitt in 1997. He joined the Pitt faculty in 2013 from Carnegie Mellon, where he had been a faculty member since 2001.

He has authored five collections of poetry. His latest, “How To Be Drawn,” is to be published next year by Penguin Books. His collection “Lighthead” won the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry; “Wind in a Box” (2006) won a Pushcart Prize; “Hip Logic” (2002) won the 2001 National Poetry Series, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and was a runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and “Muscular Music” (1999) won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Whiting Writers Award.

Among other honors and awards, Hayes has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.


Hayes joins a handful of MacArthur fellows with University connections: Former faculty member Elodie Ghedin, at the time a parasitologist and virologist in the School of Medicine, and Pitt education alumnus Kevin Guskiewicz, a faculty member in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, were named 2011 MacArthur fellows. And Pitt arts and sciences alumnus and trustee William E. Strickland Jr., head of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and the Bidwell Training Center, was a 1996 MacArthur fellow.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 3