Poet Ross Gay, whose latest book “Be Holding: A Poem” is published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, has won a prestigious PEN America Literary Award.
The Jean Stein Award, which comes with a $75,000 prize, was announced Thursday during the virtual PEN America Literary Awards. Gay teaches poetry at Indiana University and lives in Bloomington, but he is well known on Pittsburgh’s poetry scene.
“Be Holding” is a book-length poetic tribute to Julius Erving, the star forward of the Philadelphia 76ers who elevated the game of basketball to legendary levels in the 1970s and ’80s. Gay traces Dr. J’s prowess from African mythology to the Middle Passage to pickup games, hip-hop, police violence and the 1980 NBA Finals, where the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the 76ers despite Erving’s heroics.
“Be Holding” is Gay’s fourth book and the latest installment in the university press’ Pitt Poetry Series.
“I think this book is so much not only this desire but this practice,” he said via Zoom in an acceptance speech. “The practice being understanding that we are made of each other.”
Gay named poets and writers, both contemporary and deceased, who gave him the inspiration and language to write this book.
“I want to honor the mycelial way poems are made. But not only poems, lives — our lives, each other’s lives.”
Judges Tommy Orange, Fred Moten and Vievee Francis chose the winner of the Jean Stein Award, which recognizes “a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit and impact which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.”
Gay, whose list of books include “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” and “The Book of Delights,” won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.Read the story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette