The author of more than a dozen books, McGrath recently took on an entire century of history with his latest work XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century. The book features a poem for each year covering a wide range of experiences in a century that gave us Hollywood, the atomic bomb, Elvis and Dolly the cloned sheep.
The ambitious project caught the attention of the Pulitzer Prize committee, which announced the finalists and the awards April 10. It was a welcome surprise to McGrath, who was selected as judge for the same prize in 2014.
“You write your books, they go out in the world. You don’t know who is reading them or what effect they might have,” McGrath said. “Having been on the jury, you have to read hundreds and hundreds of books and put in hours and hours of deliberation. It’s a lot of hard work. I’m happy they put me up there in that top rank.”
Critic Tess Taylor reviewed XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century last year for NPR, noting McGrath captures the voices of so many cultural icons as he explores a century full of art, culture and invention.
“Not everything is weighted evenly. Hitler and Stalin get no poems, while Mao gets many,” she said. “Some figures make one appearance, while Picasso makes 11. Meanwhile, McGrath also inserts his own teenage self, a bit like a Renaissance master would in some 15th-century Last Supper.”
At FIU, McGrath is the Philip and Patricia Frost Professor of Creative Writing.
“Campbell consistently creates poetry that is relatable, relevant and engaging,” said Mike Heithaus, dean of the FIU College of Arts, Sciences & Education, which houses the Department of English. “Our students benefit from his creativity and expertise, and our FIU community has long known what the Pulitzer committee acknowledged today. Campbell is among the best.”
McGrath has taken some of the top prizes in poetry during his career including a Guggenheim fellowship, a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, the Academy of American Poets Prize, the Cohen Award from “Ploughshares” literary journal and a Pushcart Prize. He also serves on the board of directors for O, Miami, non-profit based in Wynwood that produces a visiting writer series, an annual poetry festival and literary programs that benefit a diverse cross-section of the local population.
Evelyn Gonzalez contributed to this story