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Brown University professor emeritus wins Pulitzer for poetry

Forrest Gander.Nina Subin

A professor emeritus at Brown University has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Forrest Gander, who retired from teaching last year, received the award for his collection of poems, “Be With.”

In a phone interview Monday, Gander said when a friend called him with the news, he thought it was a hoax. He emptied the dishwasher, did some vacuuming, then called his son “to get a lacerating critique of my novel in progress,” which brought him back to earth. He described the news as overwhelming.

“No one’s expecting to get a Pulitzer anymore than to get a visit for the Spanish Inquisition,” he quipped.


The organization behind the Pulitzers described “Be With,” as a collection “of elegies that grapple with sudden loss, and the difficulties of expressing grief and yearning for the departed.”

Gander, 63. said he drew inspiration from the loss of his wife, the poet C.D. Wright who died in 2016, and his mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the anguished situation at the US-Mexico border.

“All of those themes are connected to memories,” said Gander, who previously lived in Barrington, R.I. and now resides in California.

Gander previously received awards from the Library of Congress, the Guggenheim, Whiting, NEA and Howard Foundations, according to Brown. His 2011 book, “Core Samples from the World,” was a Pulitzer and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.

He said he is interested in writing “that pushes the boundaries of the art” instead of repeating past successes.

“It’s always risky,” he said.

Asked if he felt winning a Pultizer was life-changing, he said he would have to wait and see.

“It’s been like an hour-and-a-half, so I don’t know, to be honest.”

Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.