Carl Phillips has become only the second African American poet to win the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, a highly coveted prize that carries with it a career's worth of prestige--and a $100,000 check. Although being recognized for your work is most people's dream, Phillips says he did not have childhood aspirations of becoming a poet.
Phillips says the reality of following in the footsteps of Yusef Komunyakaa--the first African American poet to win the prize in 1994--is just beginning to sink in.
"Some people have asked how I'm planning to spend it (the money), but quite frankly I haven't gotten that far," says Phillips during a break from his weeklong residency at the University of Virginia's Creative Writing Program. "I'm still having my Sally Field moment, reveling in the fact that they 'really do like me.' But I guess what it means is that I can now believe that people really do find my work of importance."
He admits that some might argue that's a message that should have gotten across by now. Phillips' very first book of poetry, In the Blood, won the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize in 1992, while his second, Cortege, was a finalist for both the 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lambda Literary Award for gay-themed poetry. He's won fellowships to support his writing from the Witter Bynner and Guggenheim foundations, among others. And now, with the Kingsley Tufts Award for his fifth book, The Tether, Phillips currently is the toast of the poetry world.
Although being recognized for your work is...