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Veteran Southern Miss English Professor Wins Prestigious Poetry Award

Date 7-19-06

Contact David Tisdale 601.266.4499


Hattiesburg—University of Southern Mississippi English professor Angela Ball, Ph.D., likens her poetry to children. And lately, she’s had good reason to be proud of her brood.

Ball, who joined the Southern Miss faculty in 1981, recently received the national Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ (AWP) Donald Hall Prize in Poetry for 2006 for her newest collection of poems titled Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds. The prize, named for current poet laureate Donald Hall and sponsored by the AWP, is considered one of the most prestigious awards for poetry in the country.

Ball’s work was one of hundreds of submissions, which were narrowed down to 10 before Night Clerk was chosen as the best of the finalists.

“It’s one of the most gratifying awards I’ve received for my work,” Ball said. “That it was interesting enough to survive that (judging) process makes me happy. It means my work will get more readers, which gives energy to my teaching and my writing, and that’s what I care about.”

Of Ball’s winning entry, AWP contest judge and noted poet Terrance Hayes, a distinguished professor of poetry at Carnegie-Mellon University, said “The playfulness of Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds is so bountiful and charming you might not initially notice the melancholy intimacies and political underpinnings that make this collection much more than whimsical surrealism.

“At once literary and conversational, enigmatic and lucid, exuberant and wounded, these nimble poems wed the world of imagination to the world of experience,” he said. “Every jaunty line explodes in at least two directions: devilishly up into the mind; ardently down into the heart.”

The prize includes a cash award and hardcover book publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press, one of the most renowned poetry presses in the nation, along with a trip to New York in January when the prize winner is the featured reader at the AWP National Convention.

“The AWP Donald Hall prize in poetry is an intensely competitive and prestigious contest, and we’re thrilled that Dr. Ball’s superb collection of poems, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds, has received the recognition it richly deserves,” said Dr. Michael Mays, chair of the Southern Miss Department of English. “This recognition is a reflection of the quality of the English program at USM and of the significant worked produced by its faculty and students.”

Ball is the author of four previous books of poetry, including Kneeling Between Parked Cars, Possession, Quartet, and The Museum of the Revolution: 58 Exhibits. The recipient of grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Partisan Review, Ploughshares, and Best American Poetry, among others.

Her work ranges from an examination of everyday moments such as making pancakes to the re-imagining of lives of historical figures, ranging from Hemingway and Chekhov to the Russian dissident poet Anna Akhmatova. Her most recent book, The Museum of the Revolution, is a series of impressionistic poems that grew out of her visit to Cuba in 1994, right after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Ball, whose mother taught her to read before she entered school, always thought of herself as a writer. She became committed to poetry when she studied under the poet Stanley Plumly at Ohio University and also studied with him at the famed Iowa Writers Workshop while working on her Master of Fine Arts. She later received her doctorate from the University of Denver.

Balls said poetry is a way of “connecting how we feel with how everyone else feels.”

“If language is used well, our physical and our emotional desires are articulated. There’s a kind of level of communication (with poetry) that goes beyond the ordinary that reaches a level of experience that’s hard to get to any other way.

“My biggest hope for my poetry is to communicate, and that’s also my biggest hope for my teaching,” she said.

In working with students, Ball said one of her teaching strategies is to look for the most interesting feature of their work and help them build upon that. “Each one of them has a particular world view, and in writing, their vision unfolds and becomes more interesting as it develops,” she said.

Brian McCarty, an undergraduate English major from Hattiesburg, said his writing has improved under Ball’s instruction. “She’s a great teacher. She’s helped me view the world in a new way, by seeing things for what they are, on their own terms.”

Among others, Ball credits her colleagues in the Department of English for inspiration. “It’s really important to have such good colleagues,” she said. “Working with such brilliant people is great for my work – they inspire me by their example. Our close relationship helps us better serve our students.”

Frederick Barthelme, director of the Southern Miss Center for Writers, described Ball as a “rare gift, an astonishingly good poet who is also a beloved teacher of poets.”

"I'm delighted that Angela won this award,” Barthelme said. “We’re privileged to have her with us at the Center for Writers. The AWP Donald Hall Prize is a first rank national recognition, and it's fitting that she received it for her eloquent and stunning new collection of verse, her fifth book, and no doubt her very best."

For more information about the Southern Miss Center for Writers, call 601.266.5600 or visit

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Dr. Angela Ball, a member of the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Writers faculty, talks with Southern Miss English major Brian McCarty of Hattiesburg about a recent paper he wrote. (Southern Miss Public Relations photo by David Tisdale)

July 21, 2006 2:11 PM

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