Born: April 26, 1946
Ohio connection: Birth
Dr. Marilyn Nelson, daughter of Melvin M. Nelson, (U.S.A.F. airman) and Johnnie Mitchell Nelson (teacher) was born in Cleveland. Nelson began writing in childhood. She earned her B.A. from the University of California, Davis, and holds postgraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., 1970) and the University of Minnesota (Ph.D., 1979). She began writing in childhood and her first publication of poetry was published in 1978. She was married to Erdmann F. Waniek for nine years and dropped the “Waniek” from her name in 1995. She later remarried Roger R. Wilkinfeld. “Aframerican” poet Marilyn Nelson writes in a variety of styles about many subjects. She has also written verse for children and translated poetry from Danish and German. Kirkland C. Jones in the Dictionary of Literary Biography called Nelson “one of the major voices of a younger generation of black poets.” Dr. Nelson began her career as a lay associate for the National Lutheran Campus Minitry and went on to be a college instructor, assistant professor, associate professor and professor emeritus. Some of her books include The Cachoeira Tales, and Other Poems; The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems; The Homeplace, which won the 1992 Annisfield-Wolf Award and was a finalist for the 1991 National Book Award; Mama’s Promises; and For the Body. Dr. Nelson lives in Storrs, Connecticut.
Kent fellow, 1976; National Endowment for the Arts fellow, 1981 and 1990; Connecticut Arts Award, 1990; National Book Award finalist for poetry, 1991; Annisfield-Wolf award, 1992; Fulbright teaching fellow (France), 1995; National Book Award finalist for poetry, 1997; Poets’ Prize, 1999, for The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems; Contemplative Practices fellow, American Council of Learned Societies, 2000; named Poet Laureate for the State of Connecticut, Connecticut Commission on the Arts, 2001; J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow, 2001; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and National Book Award finalist in young people’s literature category, both 2001, for Carver: A Life in Poems; Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for Nonfiction, Newbery Honors, all 2002, for Carver: A Life in Poems; two Pushcart Prizes.