Thomas Robinson Prize

2024 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature

Mercer University’s Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies will award the 2024 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature to former Poet Laureate of the United States Rita Dove. The prize will be presented Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. in the University’s Presidents Dining Room.

“The litany of awards and accolades Rita Dove has received testify to the singular fact that she is one of the most important writers in American letters,” said Dr. David A. Davis, chair of the Robinson Prize Committee. “As a poet, she is a virtuoso of form, capable of bending verse to her will, capturing melody without notes and rhythm without drumbeats. Her true importance, though, lies in the subjects she explores in her poems. She uses her verse to tell the stories of people overlooked by history, humble people, such as her grandparents who left the South to settle in the Midwest. These stories are vital to the narrative of the United States, and Professor Dove tells them with the majesty they deserve.”

Currently the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, Dove has served as Poet Laureate of the United States, Consultant to the Library of Congress and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Author of a novel, a book of short stories, essays, and numerous volumes of poetry, among them the National Book Award finalist and NAACP Image Award winner Collected Poems 1974-2004, she also edited The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Penguin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry (2011) and wrote weekly poetry columns for The Washington Post from 2000 to 2003 and The New York Times Magazine from 2018 to 2019. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, including the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. President Bill Clinton awarded her the 1996 National Humanities Medal, and President Barack Obama presented her with the 2011 National Medal of Arts, making her the only poet who received both medals from the U.S. government.

About the prize

Thomas Robinson Prize LogoThe Thomas Robinson Prize, previously known as the Sidney Lanier Prize, was first awarded in 2012. The prize is awarded to writers who have engaged and extended the long, often complicated, tradition of writing about the South.

The selection committee for the Thomas Robinson Prize includes Mercer University professors, eminent scholars of Southern literature, and members of the Macon community. In addition to Dr. David A. Davis, the committee includes:

  • Bob Brinkmeyer, Emily Brown Jefferies Professor of English at the University of South Carolina
  • Sharon Colley, professor of English at Middle Georgia State University
  • Sarah Gardner, Distinguished University Professor of history at Mercer University
  • Trudier Harris, Distinguished Research Professor of English at the University of Alabama
  • Barbara Ladd, professor of English at Emory University
  • John Wharton Lowe, Barbara Methvin Professor of English at the University of Georgia
  • Judson Mitcham, former Georgia Poet Laureate
  • Chelsea Rathburn, Georgia Poet Laureate
  • Pam Thomasson, past president of Historic Macon Foundation

Dr. Joe Sam Robinson Jr., a widely respected neurosurgeon, and his wife, Betsy, of Macon, made a gift to assist Mercer in meeting a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant during the 2016-17 reporting year. Their financial commitment created a new endowment, the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, within the Spencer B. King, Jr. Center for Southern Studies that supports a public reading by the Thomas Robinson Prize winner at the annual presentation of the prize. The endowment honors the memory of their son, Tommy Robinson, and significantly enhances literary programming in Middle Georgia by underwriting the event.

Past winners

  • 2023 — Percival Everett
  • 2022 — Nikki Finney
  • 2021 — Barbara Kingsolver
  • 2020 — Ron Rash
  • 2019 — Fred Chappell
  • 2018 — Natasha Trethewey
  • 2017 — Ellen Gilchrist
  • 2016 — Wendell Berry
  • 2015 — Yusef Komunyakaa
  • 2014 — Elizabeth Spencer
  • 2013 — Lee Smith
  • 2012 — Ernest Gaines