Fennelly, Beth Ann 1971-

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Fennelly, Beth Ann 1971-


Born May 22, 1971, in NJ; married Tom Franklin (a writer); children: Claire, Thomas. Education: University of Notre Dame, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1993; University of Arkansas, M.F.A., 1998.


Home—Oxford, MS. Office—University of Mississippi, Department of English, W104 Bondurant, University, MS 38677. E-mail—[email protected].


Poet, author, and educator. Knox College, Galesburg, IL, assistant professor of English, 1999-2002; University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS, began as assistant professor, became associate professor of English, 2002—. Also taught at Slezka Univerzítna, Karviná, Czech Republic, 1993-94. Has served as judge for creative writing contests, including Rita Dove Prize, Brittingham Prize, and Sparks fellowship. Held a University of Arizona Poetry Center summer residency, 1999; and a MacDowell Colony residency, 2000.


Academy of American Poets Prize, 1993; Chicagoland Poets and Patrons Award, 1994; C. Van Woodward Award for Nonfiction, University of Arkansas Press, 1996; Josephine Walton Horne Writing Award, 1996; Lily Peter fellowship, University of Arkansas, 1997; Charles B. Wood Award for Distinguished Writing, Carolina Quarterly, 1997; Chapbook Breakthrough Award, Texas Review, 1997, for A Different Kind of Hunger; Diane Middlebrook postdoctoral fellowship, University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1998-99; Tennessee Williams scholarship, Sewanee Writers' Conference, 1999; Marvin Bell Prize, Bettendorf Public Library, 2000; Pushcart Prize, 2001, for The Impossibility of Language; Kenyon Review Prize for Poetry, 2001, for Open House; New Writers Award for Poetry, Great Lakes College Association, 2003; creative writing fellowship in poetry, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), 2003; Bread Loaf Writers' Conference fellowship, 2003; Sewanee Writers' Conference fellowship, 2004; grants from Fulbright Institute, 1995; University of Wisconsin—Madison, 2000; Illinois Arts Council, 2001; Mississippi Arts Commission, 2004; University of Mississippi Office of Research, 2005; Mississippi Arts Commission, 2005; United States Artist, 2006.



A Different Kind of Hunger, Texas Review Press (Huntsville, TX), 1998.

Eighteen Poems, Apiary Press (Northampton, MA), 2005.

The Kudzu Chronicles, Crown Ring Press (Boston, MA), 2006.


Open House, Zoo Press (Lincoln, NE), 2002.

Tender Hooks, Norton (New York, NY), 2004.

Unmentionables, Norton (New York, NY), 2008.


Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother (nonfiction), Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor of poems to volumes such as The Best American Poetry 1996, edited by Adrienne Rich, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997; Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem: A Guide to Writing Poetry, edited by Wendy Bishop, Longman Publishing Group (New York, New York), 1999; The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses XXV, edited by Bill Henderson, Pushcart Press (East Hampton, NY), 2001; The Alumni Grill: Anthology of Southern Writers, edited by Suzanne Kingsbury and William Gay, McAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2004; Never Before: Poems about First Experiences, edited by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Four Way Books (New York, NY), 2005; and Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poets on Child-betting and Child-bearing, edited by Catherine Wagner and Rebecca Wolff, Fence Books (New York, NY), 2007. Contributor to periodicals, including Antioch Review, TriQuarterly, Shenandoah, Michigan Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Cincinnati Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Massachusetts Review, American Scholar, and Kenyon Review.


Poet Beth Ann Fennelly has achieved recognition for her talent with a multitude of awards ranging from a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant to the Pushcart Prize and the Academy of American Poets prize. She has been awarded fellowships to prestigious writers' conferences such as Bread Loaf and the Sewanee Writers' Conferences and has received awards from publications such as Kenyon Review, Texas Review, and Carolina Quarterly.

Born in New Jersey, Fennelly was raised in Lake Forest, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, Illinois. In an interview with Katherine Montgomery for the Mississippi Writers & Musicians Web site, the poet described her younger self as "a very bookish kid," stating, "I've always done well in school." After completing her M.F.A. at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Fennelly attended the University of Wisconsin—Madison under a Diane Middlebrook post-doctoral poetry fellowship. An associate professor of English at the University of Mississippi ("Ole Miss") in Oxford, Mississippi, Fennelly has also been an assistant professor of English at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

Fennelly's first poetry collection, Open House, won the Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry in 2001 and "marks the debut of a poet with both a broad canvas and an acute eye for detail," commented a reviewer in the Virginia Quarterly Review. Fennelly herself appears as a character in many of the poems in her collection, joining notables such as Carl Sagan, Michelangelo, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Moses in her poetic musings. The long poem "From L'Hotel Terminus Notebooks" introduces Fennelly's alter ego and inner critic, Mr. Daylater, who alternates criticism of Fennelly the poet with encouragement and advice. Mr. Daylater's counsel, like that of all doubting inner voices, should be taken with caution; however, his chiding of the poet for using the word "palimpsest," for example, "is a signal that Mr. Daylater … is not as smart as the poet," observed Robert Hass in Kenyon Review. The poem, Hass concluded, "advances with a determination to keep the author interested and alive to her materials; in places, amused with itself and hopscotching, in places veering into unexpected depths, it is an immensely lively performance."

Fennelly's second poetry collection Tender Hooks explores the intense, sometimes contradictory emotions, sensations, and physical reactions to first-time motherhood, and is based on the poet's experiences during the birth and early years of her daughter, Claire. In an interview for Curled Up with a Good Book with Luan Gaines, Fennelly stated: "The juxtaposition of the horrific and beautiful underlies the experience of Tender Hooks because it underlies the whole experience of motherhood for me." "Everything one knows of motherhood from movies, say, is so pastel, water colored. So although I'd never spent a lot of time around babies, I thought I knew what to expect, and I read dozens of baby books. But I was completely unprepared. The whole thing is simplified, sentimentalized, which cheapens the experience of motherhood. I wanted to investigate the extremes, which were interesting to me because I was unprepared for them."

Many of the poems in Tender Hooks were written while Fennelly was teaching at Knox College and involve topics such as baby worship, the unexpectedly vigorous physical efforts of a breast-feeding child, grief at an earlier miscarriage, and the feelings of sheer, total love for her daughter. Fennelly describes "the experience of motherhood … more convincingly and intimately than any other poet who comes to mind," remarked Ray Olson in a Booklist review. "Fennelly doesn't flinch from showing the darker side of mothering, not just the can't-see-straight exhaustion and the anxiety of new parenthood, but the fury of both infant and mother," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Olson called the work "awesome, humanly humbling poetry," while Ellen Kaufman, writing in Library Journal, concluded that Tender Hooks is a "smart and vivacious book."

In Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother, Fennelly presents a series of private letters to a friend and former student. Written over nine months, while Fennelly's friend was expecting her first child, the letters offer Fennelly's thoughts on the joys and pains of pregnancy and motherhood, as well as on poetry, language, and writing. "Fennelly reminds us that literal birth is soul made fluid—as is also the case with the poem, from its conception, to its birth, to its reception in the world," noted Southern Review contributor Karen Salyer McElMurray, who called the work "both an intimate and strongly cultural essay." McElMurray concluded, "Birth, as Beth Ann Fennelly variously insists, is a messy thing. Birth is both fearful and extraordinary. And so linked, she implies, to our most deeply necessary stories, memoirs, and poems." Writing in Booklist, Whitney Scott also praised the volume, describing Great with Child as "a reflective, transformative book capable of enlightening beyond parenthood."

Fennelly returned to poetry with Unmentionables, in which she examines such varied subjects as the life of French Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, Southern mores, and her own personal history. In the opening poem, "First Warm Day in a College Town," a college professor admires the sight of a shirtless male runner. "But the poem is not about lust—inappropriate or otherwise," noted Paste Online contributor David Kirby. "The subject is aging, sand through the hourglass, time's winge'd chariot hurrying near. This is a motif as old as the classic Greek and Roman poets, yet Fennelly makes it new by fast-forwarding between the present and the speaker's childhood, as well as her wise, wistful future self."

Unmentionables also includes a thirteen-poem sequence titled "The Kudzu Chronicles," which explores the poet's feelings about her Mississippi home. Fennelly told Leonard Gill in an interview for Memphis: "What was it about the lusciousness of Mississippi? I thought of kudzu. On the one hand, it's a cliché. Everyone in the South writes about it. On the other hand, kudzu was imported from Japan, but it grows better in the South. It's thriving. And I thought of how it's like me … to be a transplant, to bloom in a new location." Reviewing the collection in the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger, Billy Watkins stated, "Fennelly is intrigued by many styles of poetry and uses several—including sestina, free verse and blank verse—in Unmentionables. But she does so in a way that makes her poems read like short stories stripped to the core."



Booklist, March 1, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Tender Hooks, p. 1127; March 15, 2006, Whitney Scott, review of Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother, p. 8.

Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MI), April 6, 2008, Billy Watkins, "Ole Miss English Professor Does the ‘Unmentionables,’" review of Unmentionables.

Kenyon Review, summer-fall, 2001, Robert Hass, "Losing Mr. Daylater: A Note on Beth Ann Fennelly," review of Open House, p. 28.

Library Journal, March 15, 2004, Ellen Kaufman, review of Tender Hooks, p. 82.

Memphis, April, 2008, Leonard Gill, "Beth Ann Fennelly: In Oxford, for Good."

Publishers Weekly, April 26, 2004, review of Tender Hooks, p. 58.

Southern Review, winter, 2007, Karen Salyer McElMurray, review of Great with Child, p. 241.

Spoon River Poetry Review, winter-spring, 2001, "Out of the Ordinary: A Discussion with Beth Ann Fennelly."

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 2002, review of Open House, p. 137.


Curled Up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (July 1, 2008), Luan Gaines, "An Interview with Beth Ann Fennelly," and reviews of Great with Child and Unmentionables.

Mississippi Writers & Musicians Web site,http://www.mswritersandmusicians.com/ (July 1, 2008), Katherine Montgomery, interview with Beth Ann Fennelly.

National Endowment for the Arts Web site,http://www.nea.gov/ (July 1, 2008), "Beth Ann Fennelly."

Paste Online,http://www.pastemagazine.com/ (March 27, 2008), David Kirby, review of Unmentionables.

Southern Scribe Web site,http://www.southernscribe.com/ (July 1, 2008), Charlotte J. Robertson "The Moments in Our Lives: An Interview with Beth Ann Fennelly."

University of Mississippi Web site,http://www.olemiss.edu/ (January 9, 2003), Deidra Jackson, "Visiting Ole Miss Professor Wins National Endowment of Arts Award," author information.