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Award-winning poet kicks off literary series

Elizabeth Hyde

Staff writer

Geffrey Davis, author of the critically-acclaimed book of poetry “Night Angler.” Photo by Andrew Kilgore.

Students assembled in Eaton 209 to hear the poetry of acclaimed writer Geffrey Davis on Sept. 11. The Davis reading was the first lecture of the 2019 Hallie Ford Literary Series, orchestrated by the Hallie Ford Chair in Writing, Professor Scott Nadelson. Nadelson introduced Davis, citing that the Mark and Melody Teppola Creative Writing fund made it possible to bring the poet to Willamette. 

Davis hails from the Pacific Northwest, but currently resides in Arkansas. He was raised in Tacoma, and graduated from Oregon State University and went on to receive his Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania. Two of his published works have received critical acclaim: “Revising the Storm” received the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize in 2013 and “Night Angler” received the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2013. Davis is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas. His poems have been printed in renowned media outlets including “PBS NewsHour,” Ploughshares, and The New York Times Magazine. He is also a poetry editor for the Iron Horse Literary Review

Geffrey Davis read from his autobiographical poetry book “Night Angler,” which draws heavily upon themes of fatherhood. Davis recalled deciding to dedicate the book to his eight-year-old son, but was not sure how to approach him with it. Fate intervened one day when Davis fell asleep on the couch and woke up to his son reading the book to his wife. 

“Yeah. It’s a good book, Dad,” his son told him. 

“It’s been a long time since I’ve tried that hard to fight back tears so that the voice across from me would keep speaking,” said Davis. Out of all the accolades his work has received, Davis said that his son’s review is the only one that matters. 

“Night Angler” also grapples with heavy subjects like Davis’s relationship to his own father, who struggles with addiction, the grieving process of miscarriage and violence against young black boys. 

“To me, reading Geffrey’s poems is always a joyful experience, because no matter how sad or painful the subject matter is, they are always searingly honest, never shying away from complex emotions,” said Nadelson. “They make us struggle with contradiction and earn our compassion, and they always do so in language that mirrors a precision, directness and yearning of prayer.” 

Nadelson announced that Davis will serve as this year’s judge for the Teppola Creative Writing prize. Willamette students may submit work in the form of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, and the winners in each genre will be awarded $500 and the opportunity to read from their work at the award ceremony. Submissions for the Teppola prizes will be due in the beginning of spring semester.

Two more authors will be visiting Willamette in the Hallie Ford Literary Series this semester. Natanya Ann Pulley, author of “With Teeth,” will be at Willamette on Nov. 6, and Leni Zumas, author of national best-seller “Red Clocks,” on Nov. 19. Both authors will present in Eaton 209 at 7:30 p.m. 

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