Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery ’49 will receive the 2009 Harvard Arts Medal in a ceremony kicking off the Arts First festivities on April 30. Arts First, Harvard’s Annual Arts Festival, runs from April 30 to May 3 and includes music and dance performances and more. President Drew Faust will present the medal to Ashbery as part of an event hosted by the Learning from Performers program at 5 p.m. on April 30, in the New College Theatre.
Ashbery will be the 15th distinguished Harvard or Radcliffe alum or faculty member to receive this accolade for excellence in the arts and contributions to education and the public good through arts. Past medalists have included saxophonist Joshua Redman ’91 (2008), composer John Adams ’69, M.A. ’72, (2007), cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76 (2004), and filmmaker Mira Nair ’79 (2003).
Critical recognition in the 1970s transformed John Ashbery from an obscure avant-garde experimentalist into one of the nation’s most important (though at times controversial) poets. Ashbery won all three major American poetry prizes in 1979 (the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award) for “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” The collection’s title poem is considered a masterpiece of late-20th century American poetry. Ashbery also has been honored with awards from the Academy of American Poets, Fulbright Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation. Today, at the age of 81, he is among the most prolific writers of his generation, consistently publishing works in nearly every literary genre including most recently, “Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems” (2007).
Arts First will be held April 30-May 3 in and around Harvard Square. The Arts Medal will be presented at 5 p.m. on April 30 in the New College Theatre.