Monday, December 11, 2006

Uncasville Poet Backs Upstart At National Book Awards

Norwich Bulletin
Article published Dec 11, 2006

Editor's Note: Richard Harteis and his partner, William Meredith, former U.S. poet laureate from 1978-1980, attended the National Book Awards Nov. 15 in New York. This is a recount of the event, written by Harteis, an Uncasville resident.

Many years ago at a black tie affair in New York, William Meredith was wearing diamond studs he'd been given by a lady who admired his work and had many more diamonds than she needed. Legendary poet Langston Hughes came up to William and said, "I like to see a poet wearin' diamonds!" I thought of that lady recently as I helped William into his tux for yet another celebration in New York. Tragically, she died, far too young, by her own hand, reminding me of how fragile the thread is that ties us to life, and yet, how her brilliant generosity shines on despite her sad, mysterious end.

Ten years ago, despite a stroke that left him for months without speech or movement, and despite Knopf's rejection of his new manuscript when the previous book published with Knopf had garnered the Pulitzer Prize, William sat at the awards ceremony as a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry for "Effort at Speech," published by Northwestern.

The National Book Award is one of the most preeminent literary prizes awarded for works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature. The trophy and cash prize are kept secret until the night of the awards, a suspenseful gala banquet with enough stars to blanket a winter sky. When William walked to the podium to accept the gold medal in 1997, the audience exploded in applause and gave him a heartfelt, standing ovation. We hoped to repeat the night for the young poet who invited us to this year's ceremony.

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