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William J. Smith - April 2001

William J. Smith

Poet and Louisiana native William J. Smith was named recipient of the 2001 Louisiana Writer Award. He was honored by the Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana for his extraordinary contributions to the state's literary heritage exemplified by his body of work.

The prestigious Louisiana Writer Award has been given annually since 2000 to recognize outstanding contributions to the literary and intellectual life of Louisiana.

Smith's poems include "The Tin Can," "Venice in the Fog" and "Typewriter Birds." Smith had also written children's poems such as "Laughing Time," "If I Had a Boat" and "Ho for a Hat!"

Smith's poetry has appeared in a number of such anthologies and textbooks as The War Poets, Day, 1945; The New Poets of England and America, Meridian, 1957; Modern Verse in English, 1900-1950, Macmillan, 1958; Poems for Seasons and Celebrations, World Publishing, 1961; Contemporary American Poets: American Poetry since 1940, Meridian, 1969; and Talking like the Rain, Little, Brown, 1992.

He has also served as translator of numerous works. Smith's translations from Russian, Hungarian, Swedish and French, particularly of the poems of Jules Laforgue and Andrei Voznesensky, have appeared in periodicals and books.

Smith added the Louisiana Writer Award to a long list of accolades, including Young Poets Prize, Poetry magazine, 1945; alumni citation, Washington University, 1963; Ford fellowship for drama, 1964; Union League Civic and Arts Foundation prize, Poetry magazine, 1964; Henry Bellamann Major award, 1970; Russell Loines Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1972; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1972 and 1995; D.Litt., New England College, 1973; National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, 1975 and 1989; Gold Medal of Labor, Hungary, 1978; New England Poetry Club Golden Rose, 1980; Ingram Merrill Foundation grant, 1982; California Children's Book and Video Awards recognition for excellence (preschool and toddlers category), 1990, for Ho for a Hat!; medal (médaille de vermeil) for service to the French language, French Academy, 1991; Pro Cultura Hungarica medal, 1993; René Vasquez Diaz prize, Swedish Academy, 1997.

Smith was born in 1918 in Winnfield, La. He received a B.A. from Washington University in 1939 and a M.A. in 1941. Smith attended l'Institut de Touraine and earned a diplôme d'études françaises from l'Université de Poitiers. He also performed graduate study at Columbia University from 1946 to 1947, at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar from 1947 to 1948 and at the University of Florence from 1948 to 1950.

Smith has taught poetry and writing at a number of institutions. Amond them are Washington University, St. Louis, MO, assistant in French, 1939 to 1941; Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor in English and French, 1946 to 1947, visiting professor of writing and acting chair of writing division, 1973, 1974 to 1975; Williams College, Williamstown, MA, lecturer in English, 1951, poet-in-residence and lecturer in English, 1956 to 1964, 1966 to 1967; Arena Stage, Washington, DC, writer-in-residence, 1964 to 1965; Hollins University, Hollins, VA, writer-in-residence, 1965 to 1966, professor of English, 1970 to 1980, professor emeritus, 1980 to present. He has also served as lecturer at Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, 1975; Fulbright lecturer, Moscow State University, 1981; and poet-in-residence, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1985 to 1988.

Smith served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1941 to 1945, becoming a lieutenant and receiving commendation by French Admiralty. He also was a Democratic member of the Vermont House of Representatives from 1960 to 1962.

He was a Library of Congress consultant in poetry from 1968 to 1970 and an honorary consultant from 1970 to 1976.