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Lisa Russ Spaar


Lisa Russ Spaar is the author of over ten books of poetry and criticism, most recently Madrigalia: New & Selected Poems (2021) and the anthology More Truly and More Strange: 100 Contemporary American Self-Portrait Poems (2020) (both with Persea). Her debut novel, Paradise Close, was published by Persea in spring 2022. Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Library of Virginia Award for Poetry, a Pushcart Prize, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation Faculty Award, and a Horace W. Goldsmith National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professorship. Her essays have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She professor and director of the Creative Writing at the University of Virginia.

The Value of Support

I had just turned 44 and was at work in my office the summer afternoon I received a phone call from Beth McCabe letting me know that I’d been chosen as one of the winners of a 2000 Rona Jaffe Award for Emerging Women Writers. At the time, I was the mother of three children aged 13 and younger with a full-time job and a just-taken first book manuscript of poems and an anthology of insomnia poems in the works.  I remember that in the personal statement I had to write during the interim between being nominated and actually chosen for the award, I wrote that my recent “erotic” dreams were about being able to work alone and joyously in a library. Rona was still alive that year, and the ceremony was held in the Rainbow Room, the last time for that venue, in fact, because the next fall the city’s horizon, freshly shorn of the Twin Towers, was too painful to bear from that vantage point. I’ve said before and will always say that the RJA changed my life. The monetary support was most welcome, of course, but the real and abiding value was that of being “seen” and valued at a crucial time in my life. The award was an invitation to keep writing despite and perhaps in honor of the exigencies of my life, a gesture of generosity that I remember and am grateful for every single day.


Orexia: Poems (Persea Books, hardcover, 2017; paperback, 2018). Inaugural Virginia Ball Beall Visiting Poet in Residence, Baylor University, November 2018.

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