Just one week after his first book finished as a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, author and Fresno State alumnus Anthony Cody’s yet-to-be-published second book won a top regional award for distinguished master’s thesis.
The Western Association of Graduate Schools — a regional association of accredited graduate institutions in the western United States, Canada and the Pacific Rim — on Nov. 25 awarded Cody the WAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award in the creative, visual and performing arts for his Master of Fine Arts thesis manuscript, “The Rendering.”
“The Rendering” is an experimental collection of poems that examines the Dust Bowl, climate change and the future. Utilizing archival documentation, photography and sound, the collection situates itself around inquiries of wholeness and annihilation within the Anthropocene.
Cody will receive $1,000 and will deliver one of four keynote presentations at the WAGS-ProQuest Awards virtual ceremony on March 22. The award selection was made based on his work’s originality, aesthetic merit, technical execution and the potential to reach beyond the original academic audience through future performance, exhibition or publication.
WAGS gave three additional top awards: distinguished master’s thesis in humanities, social sciences, education, and business; distinguished master’s thesis in STEM disciplines; and innovation in technology.
According to Dr. James Marshall, dean of the Division of Research and Graduate Studies at Fresno State, Cody’s honor marks the first WAGS thesis award for a Fresno State student in the association’s 62-year history.
“I am so thrilled for Anthony and his accomplishments,” Marshall said. “The honor is great for him, for graduate studies at Fresno State, for the University and our western region. Winning this award adds to his growing list of achievements, and it brings welcome attention to the community of Fresno writers.”
Marshall said “The Rendering” is powerful not just for what it says but how it says it. Cody himself calls the work “borderless poetry,” in that he deconstructs and expands the language in what can best be described as the avant-garde.
From the book’s abstract:
“‘The Rendering’ is an effort to explore the Latinx imagination as it related to borderlessness and the need for free movement. … This exploration manifests itself in poems that move back and forth across pages, often in nonlinear fashion, can be read in multiple directions, contain no vowels, as well as large-scale poems that must be assembled by the reader as a participatory meditation.”
[For an example of Cody’s experimentation, read his vowelless poem “Brd” on the Academy of American Poets website.]
Among Cody’s most powerful themes, Marshall said, are those of environmental and social disaster, which he investigates through the iconography of the Dust Bowl era and by “offering a poignant, visceral connection to the symptoms of climate change we are experiencing today.
“This historical work with its contemporary implications is innovative, groundbreaking, and truly distinguished,” Marshall said. “The book is an important and timely contribution to American literature.”
Professor Brynn Saito, who chaired Cody’s graduate thesis committee, said Cody has a wealth of knowledge about poetry and was a pleasure to work with in the classroom, both as an active learner and also as a mentor to his peers.
“‘The Rendering’ is the most unique and visionary master’s thesis I’ve had the privilege of reading,” said Saito, an assistant professor of English. “The book presciently addresses this moment we’re living through. It reinvents poetic language in order to take on the greatest crises of our time — social, environmental, political and otherwise.”
A Fresno native, Cody graduated with distinction in May and was selected as the Graduate Dean’s Medalist for the College of Arts and Humanities. He is the most highly honored writer in the 25-year history of the University’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing.
Cody’s debut book, “Borderland Apocrypha,” won the 2018 Omnidawn Open Book Contest and was published in April 2020, a month before he completed his Master of Fine Arts degree. The collection finished Nov. 18 as a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, which is among the highest literary prizes in the United States.