Award-Winning Poet, Professor Awarded Fulbright to Study in Brazil

Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly

OXFORD, Miss. – Beth Ann Fennelly, an award-winning poet and associate
professor of English at the University of Mississippi, plans to pack
her bags for Brazil next spring as recipient of a Fulbright fellowship
to study the work of 20th century American poet Elizabeth Bishop.

While abroad, Fennelly plans to write the poem she’s been envisioning
for more than 10 years. It will examine Bishop’s life in Brazil and
serve as the centerpiece for Fennelly’s next book, “Shelter,” which is
to be published by W.W. Norton.

Fennelly has published four books of poems, including her most recent
“Unmentionables” (W. W. Norton, 2008). A Pushcart Prize winner, she has
been listed three times, 1996, 2005 and 2006, in The Best American
Poetry Series.

As a writer, Fennelly has been inspired by Bishop, U.S. Poet Laureate
1949-50. In 1951, Bishop took a steamboat for South America for what
was supposed to be a two-week trip; she stayed for 18 years. During
this time, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poems
“North & South – A Cold Spring.” She later won the National Book

While Fennelly said she has no plans for such an extended stay in
Brazil, she feels this will be the next big step in her career as a
poet and an educator.

“Over the years, I’ve turned to Bishop’s Brazil poems as a guide,” Fennelly said. “In my own work, I too have become fascinated with the construction of home: How does landscape influence psychology? Why do some environments speak to us while others bore or threaten us?”

A self-described “transplant,” Fennelly came to Oxford in 2001 from Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., with husband Tom Franklin, a novelist who was appointed UM’s John and Renee Grisham writer-in-residence. After a year in Oxford they “fell in love” with the town and decided to stay when she was offered a tenure-track position, she said.

“When I moved to the South, even though I am from the Midwest, it just felt like home,” she said. “Elizabeth Bishop was from Massachusetts, and for her, Brazil felt like home.”

With her family in tow, Fennelly is to spend the 2009 spring semester (Brazil’s winter) at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, lecturing on American literature and doing research for her poetry.

“The poem I have envisioned is a sustained, meditative, lyric sequence that will construct Bishop’s home from many angles: historical, literary, emotional and environmental,” she said. “For example, in the historical section, I wish to discuss not just Bishop’s history of houses in Brazil, but Brazilian houses and the national concept of shelter.”

Patrick Quinn, chair of the UM Department of English, said he is confident Fennelly will find a “wellspring of new perceptions and material for her poetry” during her time abroad.

“There is no doubt that Elizabeth Bishop went to Brazil for poetic inspiration,” he said. “Beth Ann’s desire to breathe the same air as Bishop will no doubt inspire her own poetry and allow her the opportunity to intellectually expand her knowledge of this American poetic icon.”

Fennelly is no stranger to life in foreign lands. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in London and spent a year after graduation from the University of Notre Dame as a teacher in a small coal-mining village on the Polish-Czech border.

During her six-year tenure at Ole Miss, Fennelly has contributed much to the curriculum in the English department by designing multiple seminars and mentoring a multitude of both graduate and undergraduate students.

“She is an amazing professor,” said Alita Wilson, a former student. “Beth Ann makes the subject of poetry interesting and relatable. Like many students, I had a limited understanding of poetry prior to enrolling in Beth Ann’s class but the dread quickly reversed to excitement because Beth Ann teaches her classes with such great enthusiasm.”

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