Elizabeth Alexander appointed the inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry

Elizabeth Alexander, newly named as the inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry, is a noted poet, essayist, and scholar of African-American poetry, drama, and 20th-century literature.

Elizabeth Alexander (Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths)

Alexander composed and delivered a poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” for the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. Her other six books of poetry are “The Venus Hottentot”; “Body of Life”; “Antebellum Dream Book”; “American Sublime,” which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and was one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year”; “Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems,” which won the Paterson prize for poetry; and “Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color” (co-authored with Marilyn Nelson), her first young adult collection and a winner of the 2008 Connecticut Book Award. Alexander’s two collections of essays are “The Black Interior” and “Power and Possibility,” and she has edited several anthologies of poetry. Her play “Diva Studies” was produced at the Yale School of Drama in 1996. Her most recent work is a memoir, “The Light of the World,” that will be published in April.

Alexander is a 1984 graduate of Yale College. She earned her M.A. at Boston University and her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She was an assistant professor at the University of Chicago where she won the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and was the first director of The Poetry Center at Smith College. A member of the Yale faculty since 2000, Alexander teaches courses on African-American poetry, drama, and 20th-century literature and culture. She served as chair of the African American Studies Department for four years.

Alexander has taught and led numerous poetry workshops at various universities, is co-founder of the Cave Canem Legacy Conversations Series, and has been the Phi Beta Kappa Poet at both Yale and Harvard universities. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, an honorary position that has been held by some of the most distinguished poets in the United States, including W.H. Auden, John Ashbery, and Elizabeth Bishop. Her numerous honors include the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry (2010), the first Jackson Prize for Poetry (2007, awarded by Poets & Writers Inc.), a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship, three Pushcart Prizes, the George Kent Prize for Poetry (given by Gwendolyn Brooks), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at the University of Chicago. She is a first recipient of the Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.”

The Frederick Iseman Professorship is the first endowed chair at Yale dedicated solely to the field of poetry. Iseman is chair and chief executive officer of CI Capital Partners LLC, which he founded in 1993. When he made the donation for the chair, Iseman said, “I wanted to put a stake in the ground to show support for the humanities at Yale. … I am grateful for [President Peter Salovey’s] strong support of my view, as a former English major, that having an endowed professorship of poetry will fill a pivotal place in the academic roster of the humanities at Yale. Oxford has had one since 1708. We speak Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Yeats, and Eliot every day without knowing it. Having a great poet like Penn Warren, W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, or Seamus Heaney in residence can galvanize a campus.”

Iseman established the post in honor of his class’ 40th reunion.

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