The Whiting Foundation, a New York-based humanities organization that has supported creative writers since 1985, awarded author and Fresno State alumnus Anthony Cody a $50,000 prize.
One of the most valued and largest monetary gifts to emerging writers, the annual Whiting Awards recognize early career achievement and “enable recipients to fulfill the promise of outstanding literary works to come.”
Cody, the most honored writer in the 25-year history of the University’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, is among 10 writers shortlisted for a 2022 Whiting Award. Recipients are selected by a small committee recognized writers, literary scholars and editors appointed by the foundation.
Courtney Hodell, director of literary programs at the Whiting Foundation, said in a statement that the award-winning writers offer new cultural criticism; poetry of place, personality and appetite; and surreal tales of wit and compassion. “Their work is the spring thaw of the mind,” Hodell said.
The selection committee called Cody’s poetry “invigorating” and said his writing “expanded what is possible for American poetry”. His avant-garde poems are “assembled from official documents, historical memoirs, guidebooks, maps and edicts”, as the works deconstruct and expand language in surprising ways.
“How does poetry grow, change, respond to the present moment? asked the committee. “In Anthony Cody’s work, he stretches the form to become what it describes. These are poems about borders and the refusal of borders where the words themselves are held captive, restrained or pushed to the margins. With audacity and formal dexterity, Cody assembles his spectral poems from official documents, guidebooks, works of history, maps, laws and edicts, and traces of a bitter and bloody memory.
Cody said he looked at the Whiting’s list of winners over the past 37 years and saw heroes and icons he had long studied and admired.
“You write, you grind, you never imagine yourself being in this place and added to this list,” said Cody, who accepted the award on April 6 at a ceremony in New York. “Yet here I am.”
Cody can’t thank the foundation’s recommenders or anonymous judges. But he can thank and name those who have touched his life, he said, as he ultimately uses the award to continue working to help and inspire future writers and poets.
“I think of all the people who have come before me, countless people, who are literally geniuses in their own field,” Cody said. “People who have never received or have yet to receive this kind of honor, and I am grateful to them. To step into the unknown and the hostile. To navigate historically black-exclusive spaces , natives and writers of color. For having had to make the choice not to write, but to work and survive. That is to say, even a one-time reward for the making of a book carries with it the knowledge that many people had to endure far more than I had to endure for me to even entertain the idea that I could write a single poem, alone tries to re-imagine the stuff of a poem and a page.
Brynn Saito, an assistant professor of English at Fresno State, said Cody’s latest award shines a spotlight on “the unique poetics of visionary resistance” that continues to emerge from California’s Central Valley.
“[Cody’s] Whiting Award is incredibly inspiring, especially for writers who innovate aesthetic forms to confront histories of state violence committed against communities of color,” said Saito, who served as Cody’s dissertation mentor. “[Cody’s] the works broaden the definition of poetry: it is history, documentary, visual art and sound sculpture—often all rolled into one. And like all liberating art, it shatters expectations to renew our languages of freedom.
Cody’s first collection of poetry, “Borderland Apocrypha”, won the 2018 Omnidawn Open Book Competition and was published in April 2020, a month before he was to earn his MFA. The book went on to win an American Book Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry, and a Southwest Book Award. He was also a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry and a finalist for the PEN America Jean Stein Award.
His second yet to be published book, “The Rendering”, won the WAGS-Proquest Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award in Creative, Visual and Performing Arts. Presented by the Western Association of Graduate Schools, the honor was the first WAGS thesis award given to a Fresno State student in the regional association’s 62-year history.
In addition to an MFA (2020), Cody also holds a BFA in Liberal Studies (2004) from Fresno State. A native of Fresno, he frequently collaborates with Juan Felipe Herrera at the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio on campus. He is Associate Poetry Editor for Noemi Press and Poetry Editor for Omnidawn Publishing.