University of Cincinnati alumna Jillian Weise recently won the James Laughlin Award and $5,000 for her collection of poetry “The Book of Goodbyes,” but the award is just the most recent in a long list of accolades.
The award is the only one given by the Academy of American Poets in the U.S. for an author’s second book. Along with the $5,000 top prize, copies of her book will be distributed among fellow attendees at the award ceremony in New York City Oct. 25.
“It feels validating, it feels completely surprising, it feels like an honor, it’s just incredible,” Weise said.
As one might assume from the title, “The Book of Goodbyes” explores goodbyes and an affair between a female amputee and a man referred to as “Big Logos.” The book also won the 2013 Isabella Gardner Poetry Award.
The competition for both awards is very intense, but Weise, despite previous rejections of her manuscript, said she was determined to persevere.
“The James Laughlin award brings me into existence as far as being a poet with the Academy of American Poets,” Weise said. “At the same time, you have to understand this was a book that got rejected at least 10 times before I found the publisher. It’s not just this easy trajectory. I sent the manuscript for ‘The Book Of Goodbyes’ out for about two years and it was rejected and rejected and rejected.”
The competitive award is proof of Weise’s talent, said Don Bogen, UC comparative literature professor.
“It’s common for books to be rejected many, many times,” Bogen said. “The publishers often get hundreds of manuscripts, sometimes thousands of manuscripts and they often run contests to pick the best manuscript. Jillian won that prize to have the book published.
Weise gained national attention in 2007 for her poetry collection “The Amputee’s Guide to Sex,” in which she openly deciphered the portrayal of people with disabilities as asexual.
Her new collection has received positive reviews from Publishers Weekly Stared Review, The Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
“I read ‘The Amputee’s Guide to Sex’ from cover to cover,” said James Cummins, a senior librarian at UC. “And ‘The Book of Goodbyes’ exceeds even that pleasure.”
Born in Texas in 1981, Weise has overcome several disabilities, including the loss of one of her legs from the knee down. She also achieved numerous honors including four published books, multiple journal articles, several published chapter books and appearances at more than 15 conferences around the country.
She identifies herself as a cyborg because of her computerized prosthetic leg.
Weise lived in Argentina on a Fulbright Fellowship merit-based grant to literally walk the path Charles Darwin walked during one of his expeditions. She currently works as an assistant professor of creative writing at Clemson University where she also is a contributing editor at The South Carolina Review.
Weise graduated from the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences department of English and comparative literature in 2009.
“The program at the University of Cincinnati is spectacular, it’s one of the best in the nation,” Weise said. “I choose the University of Cincinnati for the faculty because you have so many writers publishing exciting work and because they’ll let you do this multiple genre dissertation which is one part scholarship and one part creative writing.”
She said some of her favorite poet’s received their Ph.D. from UC and many worked as professors — like Bogen, Cummins and John Drury.
“Your alum, in particular your poetry alum, are quite astounding in what they are able to achieve after they get their Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati,” Weise said.
Weise considers herself a spontaneous writer with no political agenda, however her writing style is blunt and straightforward.
“What is striking about her style is the energy of her voice, a very distinctive voice that doesn’t sound like anybody else,” Bogen said. “It is a voice that is willing to take risks emotionally, and a very dramatic voice so you feel strong emotions coming through the writing.”