By Alice Asch ‘22

Headshot of Professor Michael PriorThis semester, English professor and author Michael Prior has delightfully proven the theory that good things come in threes. In the past few months, he’s received a trio of prestigious accolades: the Canada-Japan Literary Award, a Jerome Hill Fellowship, and a New York Public Library (Cullman Center) Fellowship. 

According to their website, the Canada-Japan Literary Award recognizes “Canadian writers and translators who write, or translate from Japanese into English or French, a work on Japan, on Japanese themes, or on themes that promote mutual understanding between Japan and Canada.” Every other year, the award committee selects one English-language work and one French-language work, each of which receive a $10,000 prize. In an email to The Words, Professor Prior said he cherishes this honor partially because he’s “long been an admirer” of past recipients—he cited Ruth Ozeki, Lynne Kutsukake, and Kerri Sakamoto, whose writing “engages so richly and complexly with the various forms of memory and inheritance.” He won for his book of poetry, Burning Province, published last spring. The collection (also a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize) was widely acclaimed, and you can read more about it in this Words article from last March, where Professor Prior discusses his writing process and sources of inspiration.

In January, Professor Prior garnered another honor: a Jerome Hill Fellowship. The program, founded by artist and philanthropist Jerome Hill, awards grants to emerging “early career” artists in Minnesota and New York City. Every few years, the foundation gives out sixty fellowships spread across ten different disciplines: dance, film/media, literature (Professor Prior’s category), music, theater/performance/spoken word, and the visual arts. Winners receive $50,000 over the course of two years, meant to facilitate professional development and the creation of new work. You can read Professor Prior’s Fellowship Statement here, where he reflects on his poetry. 

Additionally, Professor Prior is now part of the 2021-22 class of Cullman Center Fellows. This year, the New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers selected fifteen winners from a pool of 506 applicants. Professor Prior is the only poet among the 2021-22 cohort, but he is in the company of several fiction writers, academics, and independent scholars. According to their website, from September to May, the fellows will have direct access to the materials of the New York Public Library, including a private office in the Cullman Center’s quarters, a stipend of $75,000, and “the assistance of curatorial and reference staff.” Professor Prior plans to use these resources to develop a new manuscript of poems exploring “intergenerational memory and the incarceration of Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans during the Second World War.” He mentioned that the Library contains many collections related to pastoral poetry and nikkei visual artists, both “interwoven focuses” of his upcoming project. What is he looking forward to most? “Having an office in the Library’s Schwarzman Building (the one with the stone lions out front!) and time to write!” he told us. Sadly for the Macalester community, this means that Professor Prior will relocate to New York City in the fall, where he will be busy crafting his wonderful poetry and enjoying those stone lions, along with everything else that the Big Apple has to offer. He’ll return to our campus eventually, though, so don’t fret! 

The Words thanks Professor Prior for taking the time to speak with us! We congratulate him on his accolades and wish him the best of luck next year.