The Fresno State Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing announced Pennsylvania author Steven Kleinman as the winner of the 2019 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry book contest, which includes a $2,000 award and publication of his debut book, “Life Cycle of a Bear.”

The Creative Writing Program sponsors the national prize, which honors Levine, the late poet and professor emeritus who was a founder of Fresno State’s poetry writing program, a 1995 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry and the 2011 poet laureate of the United States. The prize is awarded in partnership with Florida-based Anhinga Press, which has published poetry books since 1974.

C.G. Hanzlicek, the Levine Prize final judge and award-winning poet and Fresno State professor emeritus, chose Kleinman’s manuscript as the winner. There were 911 manuscript submissions. Hanzlicek wrote of the winning entry:

“I was instantly haunted by the rhythms in Steven Kleinman’s poems. Through parallel phrasing, he builds a momentum that seems partly song and partly incantation. Incantations can be a dangerous thing, and he does indeed take us to some dark places, but he also has a playful mind that can lead to hilarity (see his poem ‘The Last Supper’). There are surreal touches in many of the poems, but those touches never seem arty or gratuitous but rather spring from the urgency of what he is witnessing, and witnessing is what the book is about. As Kleinman says, ‘It matters / what I could actually see and why.’”

Hanzlicek also noted two manuscripts as contest finalists: “Vivisection” by Sheila Black of San Antonio, Texas; and “Chiald” by Jessica Cuello of Syracuse, New York.

Kleinman grew up in Havertown, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Maryland. His poems have appeared in journals including the American Poetry Review, the Gettysburg Review, the Iowa Review, Oversound, the American Literary Review and Tikkun.

Kleinman currently serves as a contributing editor at the American Poetry Review, where he co-hosts the American Poetry Review Podcast. He also coordinates the Art Alliance Writers’ Workshop at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he teaches poetry in the UArts Bachelor of Fine Arts program. He has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

He and his wife, Gabrielle Mandel, live with their Boston Terrier, Isabella Fartellini, in the Kingsessing neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Like his parents, who owned a woodworking shop, he enjoys building things, and he grows figs and blackberries in his backyard garden.

The Philip Levine Prize for Poetry is an annual national book contest open to all poets, except current or former students or faculty of Fresno State. It is coordinated by professor Corrinne Clegg Hales as part of the University’s English 242 graduate course, Literary Editing and Publishing, which provides students with real-world experience in the field. The contest offers a $2,000 prize plus publication and distribution by Anhinga Press, which has co-sponsored the prize since the contest’s inception in 2001.

(Graduate assistant Javier Lopez contributed to this report.)