Kelly Cherry’s mother, a string quartet violinist like Kelly’s father, wanted her to marry a rich man. As time passed, this seemed less and less likely. So her mother proposed that she become a scientist. Scientists made more money than violinists. Kelly took university classes in physics, astronomy, mathematics, geology, anthropology, political science, even a class in relativity, but none of these made her a scientist. What she wanted to do was write. Her mother was against this, so much so that she ran to the kitchen, grabbed a long and sharp knife, and ran back to say she’d rather see me dead than writing, as writing was definitely non-paying. Her father quietly took the knife away, her mother retreated to her bedroom, and Kelly continued to write. She was twelve when the knife incident occurred. Her writing, as she remembers it, was fairly juvenile, even childish, but when she wrote a poem and discovered the music of poetry she knew she had found her calling, however pitiful her early poems were.
By the time she had written a couple of books, her mother offered to type her daughter’s handwritten The Exiled Heart. Her mother used an old manual typewriter, with keys that had to be shoved way down and sometimes refused to come back up, but the typing was done, and her father mailed it, at Kelly’s request, to Louisiana State University Press, and it was accepted. Her mother still wished her daughter might find a rich man but she was no longer bothered by her daughter’s desire to write.
Speaking as the daughter, I was buoyed by my mother’s help and enthusiasm from then on. A father, an older brother, and a younger sister are also part of this story but all of them, including my mother, are gone. As for me, I am still writing, because that is what I love to do. A few words or a sentence will start me off and there’s no telling what will follow. Every paragraph is an expedition that takes the writer elsewhere. Writing, I’ll say, is something like time travel. I’m sure that’s been said about reading, but the writer, too, discovers her road as she walks alongside it. Everything is a surprise. You wrote not what you thought you’d write; you write what you’d never thought. I could say I am addicted to writing except someone pointed out that addiction is negative, not positive, and writing is positive. It’s not magic, of course; it’s concentration. But concentration is its own form of magic. When you concentrate, you are outside of time. Instead of living by the minute or hour, you are in a place of endlessness, without being aware of it. A place of no-time. How could I not love to write? I am intrigued, astonished, awakened again and again, and always in love.
Kelly Cherry is the author of 27 books, 11 chapbooks, and 2 translations of classical drama. Her newest titles, published in 2017, are Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Poem, Beholder’s Eye: Poems, and Temporium: Before the Beginning to After the End: Fictions. Former PL of Virginia. Emerita at Poets Corner, NYC. Inaugural recipient of the Hanes Poetry Prize from the Fellowship of Southern Writers; NEA; USIA (the Philippines); Rockefeller (Bellagio); Bradley Lifetime Award; Phillabaum Prize, Weinstein Award; Weinstein Residency; Notable Wisconsin Author; three Arts Board fellowship grants and two New Work awards from Wisconsin; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook Award (2000, for 1999); Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Letters; four Prize anthologies. Eminent Scholar, UAH, 2001-2005. More detailed information may be found on her Wikipedia page.
Regal House Publishing is delighted to bring you Kelly’s poetry collection, Zip, or Micrology, in 2018.
2010–12 Poet Laureate of Virginia
- 2017 The William “Singing Billy” Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Letters
- 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
- 2015 Finalist, Library of Virginia Fiction Award for A Kind of Dream: Stories.
- 2015 Selected by LJ among 30 Top Indie Fiction titles
- 2013 L. E. Phillabaum Poetry Award
- 2012 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize
- 2012 Rebecca Mitchell Taramuto Short Fiction Prize for “On Familiar Terms,” Blackbird at www.blackbird.vcu.edu
- 2011 The Bravo!Award by the Chesterfield Public Education Foundation, Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia, USA
- 2010 Finalist, People’s Choice Awards, Library of Virginia, for Girl in a Library: On Women Writers & the Writing Life
- 2010 Director’s Visitor, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey
- 2010 The Ellen Anderson Award (first recipient) from the Poetry Society of Virginia
- 2009 Finalist (with Marvin Bell and Mark Jarman) for The Poets’ Prize
- 2009 Finalist, Book of the Year Award, ForeWord Magazine, nonfiction, for Girl in a Library: On Women Writers and the Writing Life
- 2002 Book of the Year Award by ForeWord Magazine, Silver Prize for Poetry, for Rising Venus
- 2000 Bradley Major Achievement Award (Lifetime), Council for Wisconsin Writers
- 2000 Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Mary Washington
- 2000 Dictionary of Literary Biography Award for the best volume of short stories (The Society of Friends: Stories) published in 1999
- 1999 Leidig Lectureship in Poetry, Emory & Henry College
- 1992 USIS Arts America Speaker Award (The Philippines). USIS is now called the USIA
- 1992, 1991 Wisconsin Arts Board New Work Awards
- 1991 VCCA Writers Exchange Fellow (with Edwin Honig et al.) to Russia (Leningrad, Peredelkino, Yalta)
- 1991 First Prize for Book-length Fiction, Council for Wisconsin Writers (for My Life and Dr. Joyce Brothers)
- 1991 Wisconsin Notable Author, Literary Committee of the Wisconsin Library Association
- 1990, 1987, 1983 PEN Syndicated Fiction Awards
- 1989 Hanes Poetry Prize given by the Fellowship of Southern Writers for a body of work, first recipient.
- 1980 First Prize for Book-length Fiction, Council for Wisconsin Writers (for Augusta Played)
- 1974 Canaras Award for first novel, Sick and Full of Burning
- 2009 Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, USA
- 2005 Fellow, Le Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France
- 1997 WARF Award (Eudora Welty Chair)
- 1993 Bascom Award (Evjue-Bascom Chair)
- 1994 Hawthornden Residency Fellowship, Scotland
- 1991, 1988, 1984 Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowships, USA
- 1989, 1979 Fellow, Yaddo
- 1986 Fellow, The Ragdale Foundation, USA
- 1984 UW Chancellor’s Award
- 1983 UW Romnes Fellowship
- 1979 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, USA
- 1978 Fellow, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, USA. Also, 1985; 1986; December–January 1987/1988; 1989; December–February 1990/1991; 2003; 2004; 2007; 2011 (Weinstein Fellow); June 13-July 14, 2013
- 1975 Allan Collins Fellowship, Bread Loaf, USA