Ann Fisher-Wirth Named UM 2014 Teacher of the Year

Students praise professor for passion and 'teaching a way of living'


Ann Fisher-Wirth

OXFORD, Miss. – After more than 25 years teaching poetry, creative writing, environmental literature and more, Ann Fisher-Wirth has won a bevy of teaching and professional awards, but the popular University of Mississippi faculty member admits to being “flabbergasted” at her latest honor.

Students praise Fisher-Wirth as passionate and inspirational, a teacher who brings out the best in them. The professor of English was rewarded for her commitment when Chancellor Dan Jones introduced her during the 71st annual Honors Day Convocation as the recipient of the 2014 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teaching Award.

“By challenging students to delve deeper within themselves and to think critically about the world around them, she helps open their minds to a whole new way of approaching life,” Jones said. “She is known to be enthusiastic, yet demanding, in the classroom, and that combination encourages her students to always want to do their best.

“One student noted that her ‘presentation of the material was among the most elegant and profound I have ever experienced, with the result that my notes look like refined prose and, at times, like poetry.'”

She was named the Liberal Arts Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2005-06 and the UM Humanities Teacher of the Year for 2006-07, an honor co-sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council and the College of Liberal Arts. She was a senior Fulbright lecturer at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, and held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair of American Studies at Uppsala University in Sweden. But the Elsie Hood is “right up there at the top,” she said.

“In my personal life, becoming a grandma was just a little bit higher, but this one is right up there. I’ve always loved teaching, so to be given this award for doing what I love is really special. I want to thank the students who nominated me. It moves me so much that they’d go to the trouble to submit nomination letters for me.”

Besides teaching poetry and American literature, Fisher-Wirth is director of the university’s minor in environmental studies. She also teaches yoga at Southern Star in Oxford.

A nomination letter from one student notes that “she seems to be teaching a way of living: by learning about the natural world and the people in it (we too are essentially natural), we begin to understand our places in the world and ultimately lead more fulfilled lives.” Another student, who has taken her classes for three consecutive semesters, wrote, “I can rightfully say that she has changed my life and probably the lives of other students as well.”

Before coming to UM in 1988, she was on the faculty at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and at Scripps and Pomona colleges in California. She served as president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, a 1000-member organization with nine international affiliates, in 2006.

A 13-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Fisher-Wirth has published her poetry in many prestigious creative writing journals. Her books include “Dream Cabinet” (Wings Press, 2012), “Carta Marina” (Wings Press, 2009), “Slide Shows” (Finishing Line Press, 2009), “Five Terraces” (Wind Publishing, 2005) and “Blue Window” (Archer Books, 2003). She co-edited the 625-page “The Ecopoetry Anthology with Laura-Gray Street (Trinity University Press, 2013).

Fisher-Wirth said she hopes her winning the teaching award helps increase the visibility of the environmental studies minor.

“I care so much about the environmental studies program, so anything that helps attract students to it is really special,” she said. “I want to see the program grow, and I’d love to see it become a major one day.”

Each year since 1966, the university has recognized excellence in teaching by presenting the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award. Based on nominations from both students and faculty, the award includes a personal plaque and a check from the chancellor. Recipients’ names are also engraved on a plaque listing previous winners, which is displayed in the J. D. Williams Library.