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English Alum Receives the President's Award


Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis graduated from UW- Eau Claire in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in English. Today she is a decorated writer who was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. She has gone far and accomplished much since leaving UWEC. At an event in conjunction with the Spring 2017 commencement, she received the UWEC Alumni Association President's Award to recognize her personal and professional success as well as her contributions to her profession.

Elizabeth Willis, who has been described as "one of the most outstanding poets of her generation," is a highly decorated writer who in 2016 was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection titled "Alive: New and Selected Poems." Her publications are extensive and include books, chapbooks, magazine articles, works in anthologies, prose publications and others.

Currently a professor of poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Willis previously served as the Shapiro-Silverberg professor of creative writing at Wesleyan University. A recent Guggenheim fellow, Willis has held professorships and writing residencies at many colleges and universities and has received numerous writing awards. She holds a doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Willis, who grew up in Eau Claire, says she is forever grateful to UW-Eau Claire English faculty members Bruce Taylor, John Hildebrand and Douglas Pearson, now professors emeritus, who helped hone her early writing and encouraged her to pursue a doctorate.

"Poetry is a strange field because making a career as a poet is sort of the opposite of fame and fortune,” Willis says In reflecting on her career as a poet and educator. “I've had a job since I was 16, including several years at J.C. Penney, then in downtown Eau Claire, so it was a great affirmation when a few years after I graduated I received a writing residency and an artists' fellowship — an actual check, modest as it was, for doing the thing I love to do.

"Much later, when I received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and last year when I was a finalist for the Pulitzer, it was the same kind of unexpected thrill. But the most rewarding experiences are more personal than that: hearing from a young writer that my work has been meaningful to them, or seeing books and magazines by my own students coming into the world."

To see the full article with the list of other UWEC Alumni Association awards, click here.