Poet and writer Ross Gay’s “Be Holding,” published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, is the winner of the 2021 PEN America Jean Stein Book Award.
The fourth book of poetry from the Bloomington, Ind.-based writer is part of the Pitt Poetry Series, and is the first book published by a university press to win the prestigious Jean Stein prize, according to a news release from the Pitt Press. Gay will receive a prize of $75,000.
Founded in 2016, the Jean Stein Book Award annually "recognizes a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence," according to the PEN America website. This year's judges were Vievee Francis, Fred Moten, and Tommy Orange.
“Be Holding,” a book-length poem, is a love song to legendary basketball player Julius Erving — known as Dr. J — who dominated courts in the 1970s and ‘80s as a small forward for the Philadelphia ‘76ers. Through a kind of lyric research, Gay connects Dr. J’s famously impossible move from the 1980 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers to pick-up basketball and the flying Igbo and the Middle Passage, to photography and surveillance and state violence, to music and personal histories of flight and familial love.