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Department of English
University of Mississippi

Poet Beth Ann Fennelly Named UM Humanities Teacher of the Year

OXFORD, Miss. – Passion for poetry and teaching have earned one of the University of Mississippi’s most beloved professors another honor.

Beth Ann Fennelly, associate professor of English and director of the MFA program in creative writing, has been named the 2011 Humanities Teacher of the Year and is set to present a free, public lecture at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 in Bondurant Hall.

In “A Life with Lines: Reflections on Writing, Teaching and Loving Poetry,” Fennelly plans to offer both a poetry reading and humorous commentary. Besides reading some of her poems and talking about how poetry has shaped her life, Fennelly plans to share why she loves teaching and what studying literature can do for students.

“I was surprised and honored to hear I had won the award,” said Fennelly, who teaches poetry as literature and also teaches the writing of both poetry and creative nonfiction. “Some of the pleasures of teaching are the daily feedback, seeing the students’ faces, the arch of an eyebrow when someone has a question or seeing the nod of a head or an ‘ah-ha’ moment. I like to be with the students and see their faces, and that’s my favorite part of teaching.”
The award is designed to recognize outstanding teachers in humanities fields and/or teachers in other fields who use the interests and methods of the humanities to set a context for their own areas of study. It is co-sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council and the UM College of Liberal Arts.

“Each institution of higher learning in the state is invited to designate a member of its faculty for this award each year, to honor outstanding work and recognize significant contributions to teaching,” said Barbara Carpenter, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council. “Recipients give a presentation or lecture about their research, special interests or writing to a public audience, and the institution provides a reception or other occasion for the honoree to answer questions and talk with the audience about their work.”

Thirty awards, which include $500 checks, are given statewide.

Carpenter said she enjoys Fennelly’s work and is looking forward to the lecture.

“I am delighted that the University of Mississippi has selected Beth Ann Fennelly to receive this award,” Carpenter said. “She is an excellent representative of the university and its outstanding faculty and of the kinds of accomplishments the Mississippi Humanities Council likes to recognize.”

Good poetry uses language to truly speak to people, and it inspires, motivates and challenges, said Fennelly, who won a Fulbright Award in 2009. She is also winner of a Pushcart Prize and was included in “The Best American Poetry” series three times.

Receiving the award has caused Fennelly to reflect on her life as a teacher and has forced her to grow.

“We live in a culture that values money, so when you do something that appears valueless, you are forced to reflect on its less obvious rewards. Poetry is powerful medicine, and studying and teaching literature has enriched me in many ways,” said Fennelly, who has taught at UM since 1998.

“Another reason I am honored by this award is because it’s a tangible reminder of my support here from students as well as the administration. The humanities matter here, as they do in all healthy communities and it’s great to know that people are reading, listening and responding.”

Fennelly is married to Tom Franklin, UM assistant professor of fiction, who was named the 2011 Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger winner for his latest novel, “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” (Macmillan, 2010).

She is the author of “Unmentionables,” (W.W. Norton, 2008), “Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother” (W.W. Norton, 2006), “Tender Hooks,” (W.W. Norton, 2004) and “Open House” (Zoo Press, 2002), which won The Kenyon Review Prize and the GLCA New Writers Award.

For more information on the creative writing program at UM, visit

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