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Pulitzer Prize-winning U. professor receives Blackwell Prize

The University of West Georgia recently recognized Gregory Pardlo, a Rutgers—Camden alum and an associate professor in the Department of English and Communication at Rutgers—Camden, as the winner of the Blackwell Prize in Writing. – Photo by Courtesy of Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo, a Rutgers—Camden alum and an associate professor in the Department of English and Communication at Rutgers—Camden, was recently awarded the Blackwell Prize by the University of West Georgia, according to a press release.

The Blackwell Prize is given as a writing award in the spring and a painting award in the fall to recognize exceptional achievement in these disciplines, according to the award's website. Each year, distinguished writers are invited to the University of West Georgia campus for readings and community interactions.

The Daily Targum spoke to Pardlo about the prize, and he said that he was introduced to the award through a University of West Georgia faculty member, who nominated him for it.

"I think that the Blackwell Foundation in Georgia (is) interested in bringing people from various cultural corners of the culture and people who are producers of culture to Newnan, Georgia, in particular," he said. "At this point in time in American history, it was both terrifying and thrilling to be invited as … an artist and a poet, as an intellectual, to this place that I had known, mostly from the news, as a very conservative state where the epicenter of Donald Trump's failed attempt to steal the presidential election (had been)."

Pardlo also said he was motivated by a desire to correct his preconceived notions about the state of Georgia outside of Atlanta, a city known for its prominence in Black culture.

In addition, the Targum spoke to Pardlo about his work at Rutgers—Camden and the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice (ISGRJ). He serves as the ISGRJ's campus co-director for the Camden campus and said he worked on events such as the ISGRJ's Poets and Scholars Summer Writing Retreat.

Currently, he is a visiting associate professor of practice in the Literature and Creative Writing Program at New York University Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He also said he was the director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the Camden campus prior to his position at New York University.

Pardlo said that his favorite class to teach at Rutgers is a course called "Writing the Selfie," which teaches students to think critically about the elements that make up the self beyond social and political beliefs. While the University no longer offers this course, Pardlo said he would be enthusiastic to teach it again.

"I make the argument that your true self is constructed in the moment, and it is contingent on the context in which it is presented," he said. "So, this course gets into the weeds and thinks about notions of self and subjectivity in relation to society."

In 2015, Pardlo was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his work "Digest." Pardlo said to the Targum that he did not initially know that he had been awarded the prize but had found out from his colleagues and students. He noted this event as a turning point where his work began to receive national and international recognition as reporters from the Associated Press and The New York Times also sought Pardlo out upon the announcement of the award.

He said he attributes his status as a Pulitzer Prize winner as the reason he won the Blackwell Prize and, through his work, he said that people regard him as a representation of success outside of more mainstream routes.

"I'm not in entertainment. I'm not in sports," he said. "I find that people often find that both refreshing and inspiring to know that there are fulfilling ambitions outside of these pop-cultural paths to success — or definitions of success."

Pardlo also said that he would describe his academic and literary career as unconventional because he focused less on small-scale results, such as completing a degree or receiving a certain grade, and more on the larger role that education would serve in his life. Pardlo added that he views poetry as a calling rather than a career.

"I never set out to be a poet," he said. "I set out to organize my life in a way that would allow me to practice the craft that I've always gotten so much joy out of."

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