Marilyn Nelson delivered the Lillian and Donald Bauder Lecture on Friday, April 20, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. in the Madame Cadillac Building’s Alumnae Hall.
In her poems, Nelson probes her family history, records her struggles with religious faith, complicates our assumptions about race relations in the past and present, and grapples with the disturbing manifestations of evil in the contemporary world. A sure-handed poet, she writes in several different poetic forms including sonnets and sonnet sequences, ballads, villanelles, and free verse. Her major volumes of poetry include Mama’s Promises (1985), The Homeplace (1990), Magnificat (1994), The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (1997), and The Cachoeira Tales and Other Poems (2005). Yusef Komunyakaa has written, “Rooted in the basic soil of redemptive imagination, the voices in Marilyn Nelson’s poems seek a lyrical foothold in our daily lives. Her words teach us how to praise ourselves by praising each other.” And Mark Doty says that “Nelson’s bold and sure poems long for heaven and— happily for us—continue a lifelong affair with the occasions of earth.”
Nelson’s books of poetry for young people—among them Carver: A Life in Poems, and A Wreath for Emmett Till—have received high praise from critics and educators. About Carver, Herman Sutter writes, “The poems are simple, sincere, and sometimes so beautiful that they seem not works of artifice, but honest statements of pure, natural truths.” Kirkus Reviews calls A Wreath for Emmett Till “a towering achievement.” Publisher’s Weekly says, “For those readers who are ready to confront the evil and goodness of which human beings are capable, this wise book is both haunting and memorable.”
Marilyn Nelson is the author of thirteen books of poetry, six of which are written for children. Her work has received two Pushcart Prizes, two Coretta Scott King Book Awards, a Newbery Honor Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and the 1998 Poets’ Prize. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Nelson is professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut and the former poet laureate of the state of Connecticut.