Shara McCallum receives Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Penn State University announced that Shara McCallum, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and former Penn State Laureate, recently received the prestigious Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award for Poetry for her 2021 book, “No Ruined Stone.”

Named for African American writers Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, the Legacy Awards honor exemplary Black fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from the United States and around the world. Previous award winners include such notable writers as Alain Mabanckou, Colson Whitehead, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chris Abani, Aminatta Forna and Kwame Dawes.

“When I wrote ‘No Ruined Stone,’ I wrote it to honor the voices of all my ancestors, voices I hear and carry. The poets who have received the prize before me are writers I greatly admire and in whose company I am humbled to find my work placed, particularly the Black women writers whose work my book is in conversation with, including Elizabeth Alexander, Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, and Evie Shockley, just to name a few,” McCallum said. “There are also numerous Black women, from the past and in the present, poets and those not seen as poets, whose voices are never heard. It’s for them I’m grateful my book has received this recognition.”

Originally from Jamaica, McCallum has written six books including “No Ruined Stone,” a novel-in-verse that offers a speculative account of a segment from the life of well-known Scottish poet Robert Burns. In 1786, Burns arranged to migrate to Jamaica to work on a slave plantation as a “bookkeeper” — a job in which he would have overseen the work of enslaved Africans. However, largely due to the huge success of his book of poems published that same year, Burns decided not to make the move.

Voiced primarily by a fictive Burns in Jamaica and his fictional granddaughter, a 19th-century woman born into slavery in Jamaica who migrates to Scotland and passes for white, “No Ruined Stone” explores the question “What would have happened had Burns gone?” while also examining the historical relationship between Scotland and Jamaica.

McCallum’s poems have been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Romanian, Dutch, and Turkish and have been set to music by composers Marta Gentilucci and Gity Razaz. Last year, she received the prestigious silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica. Similar to the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom, the award honors Jamaicans who demonstrate excellence in the fields of literature, arts, and science.

In addition to the Musgrave Medal, McCallum has received the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for her book, “Madwoman”; a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress; a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Oran Robert Perry Burke Award for Nonfiction; and the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for her first book, “The Water Between Us.”

During her tenure as 2021-22 Penn State Laureate, McCallum conducted writing workshops and made numerous speaking engagements throughout Pennsylvania and elsewhere. She also showcased the works of other Pennsylvania poets on the WPSU radio program, “Poetry Moment.”

An annual faculty honor established in 2008, the Penn State Laureate is a full-time faculty member in the arts or humanities who is assigned half time for one academic year to bring greater visibility to the arts, humanities, and the University, as well as to their own work.

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