The Whiting Foundation, a New York-based humanities organization that has supported creative writers since 1985, awarded author and Fresno State alumnus Anthony Cody with a $50,000 prize.
One of the most esteemed and largest monetary gifts to emerging writers, the annual Whiting Awards recognize early career achievement and “empower recipients to fulfill the promise of exceptional literary works to come.”
Cody, the most highly honored writer in the 25-year history of the University’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, is among 10 writers selected for a 2022 Whiting Award. The winners are selected by a small committee of recognized writers, literary scholars and editors as appointed by the foundation.
Courtney Hodell, director of literary programs for the Whiting Foundation, said in a statement that the awarded writers offer fresh cultural criticism; poetry of place, personhood and appetite; and stories of surreal 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 “has enlarged what’s possible for American poetry.” His avant-garde poems are “assembled from official records, historical memory, guidebooks, maps and edicts,” as the works deconstruct and expand language in surprising ways.
“How does poetry grow, change, answer the present moment?” the committee asked. “In the work of Anthony Cody, it stretches the form to become what it describes. These are poems about borders and the refusal of borders in which the words themselves are held captive, held back or pushed to the margins. With boldness and formal dexterity, Cody assembles his spectral poems from official records, guidebooks, works of history, maps, laws and edicts, and the traces of bitter and bloody memory.”
Cody said he looks at the list of Whiting winners over the past 37 years and sees heroes and icons he has long studied and admired.
“You write, you grind, you never imagine yourself to be in this place, and added to this list,” said Cody, who accepted the award April 6 at a ceremony in New York City. “Yet, here I am.”
Cody cannot thank the foundation’s anonymous recommenders or judges. But he can thank and name those who have touched his life, he said, as he ultimately uses the award to continue to work toward helping and inspiring future writers and poets.
“I think about all the people who have come before me, countless folks, who are literal geniuses in their own realm,” Cody said. “People who never received or have yet to receive this kind of honor, and I am grateful to them. For stepping into the unknown and the hostile. For navigating spaces historically excluding Black, indigenous and writers of color. For having to make the choice not to write, but to work and survive. Which is to say, even a singular award for making a book carries with it the knowledge that a lot of people had to endure far more than I have had to endure for me to even entertain the idea that I could write a single poem, let alone try to re-imagine the makings of a poem and 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 are innovating aesthetic forms to confront histories of state violence committed against communities of color,” said Saito, who served as Cody’s thesis mentor. “[Cody’s] works expand the definition of poetry: it is history, documentary, visual art and sound sculpture — often all at once. And like all liberatory art, it breaks expectations in order to renew our languages of freedom.”
Cody’s debut poetry collection, “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 book went on to win an American Book Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry and a Southwest Book Award. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry and a finalist for the PEN America Jean Stein Award.
His yet-to-be-published second book, “The Rendering,” won the WAGS-Proquest Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award in the 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 a Master of Fine Arts degree (2020), Cody also holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies (2004) from Fresno State. A Fresno native, he’s a frequent collaborator with Juan Felipe Herrera in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio on campus. He serves as an associate poetry editor for Noemi Press, and as a poetry editor for Omnidawn Publishing.