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USF Professor Is A Finalist For National Poetry Award

Oct 25, 2016

While USF English professor Jay Hopler's new book is inspired by one of the most painful things a person can experience -- the death of a parent -- the work is nominated for one of literature's leading awards. 

"The Abridged History of Rainfall," which will be published by McSweeney's on Nov. 15, is a finalist in the National Book Awards' poetry category. Winners in the awards' four categories will be announced the next day at a ceremony in New York City.

The book, Hopler's second, was written as a eulogy to his father, Robert Sherwood Hopler, a former FBI agent who died at 82 in 2009. 

"I was trying to make sense of the grief that I was feeling," Hopler said. "I think when I write -- the writing is thinking for me -- so I was trying to use poetry as a way to deal with it and to make sense of it. I'm not sure if I actually arrived at any conclusions but it certainly did help to make certain things clearer."

Jay Hopler's new book, "The Abridged History of Rainfall," will be published by McSweeney's on November 15
Credit McSweeney's

The 45-year-old Hopler has seen his earlier work recognized. His first book, "Green Squall," won the 2005 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.

"I went silent for a few years (after that)," Hopler said. "I didn't want to write the same book again. I was looking for a new vocabulary, a new way of looking at the world and the passing of my father was such a huge event that it sort of shocked me back into speech."

This time around, Hopler is facing off against a formidable field of contemporaries in the poetry category, including former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Daniel Borzutzky, Peter Gizzie and Solmaz Sharif.

"I am a fan of their work -- all of them," Hopler said. "Rita Dove, I've been reading for years and years. She was one of the poets, when I was a graduate student, that I most admired. And I'm so thrilled that I get to read with her on the 15th" at a National Book Awards event featuring the finalists in the four categories.

"Peter Gizzi, Daniel Borzutzky and Solmaz Sharif - their books are absolutely amazing," Hopler added. 

Hopler recognizes how being a finalist for an award that many writers hold at the same level, if not more prestigious than a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize in Literature, is a boon for his career.

"Professionally speaking, it's hugely important," Hopler said. "It certainly will increase my readership and people will notice my work who might not have taken notice otherwise."

At the same time, he said, it's not like the recognition is making too much of a difference at his other job, teaching poetry at USF.

"I'm not sure that most of my students know actually," Hopler said, laughing. "But the few who have mentioned it seem pretty excited." 

Hopler will be profiled on University Beat on WUSF TV, at 6 p.m. Sunday, October 30.