When the Miami Knight Arts Challenge finalists were announced last week, it was far from surprising to see cultural vanguard and O, Miami, poetry fest organization University of Wynwood on the list.
The U's plan, should it be gifted one of the $20,000 grants, is to produce a conference devoted to the awareness and appreciation of Donald Justice, the late Miami-born poet who's less-than-famous in his own city of origin. We spoke to University of Wynwood founder and director P. Scott Cunningham about the hometown hero and their potential plans to honor his good words.
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The project premise, as described by the Knight Foundation finalist announcement, is "To celebrate renowned poet Donald Justice through a new book and conference in his hometown of Miami, where he is virtually unknown."
Cunningham says Justice deserves more of a spotlight locally. After all, he was born and bred in the 305 and graduated from the University of Miami in 1945. And he did his city proud.
"He's the only Miami born poet who's won a Pulitzer Prize and a couple of other major prizes like the Lamont that nobody else down here has won," Cunningham says. "He's kind of like a towering figure in American poetry. He was the main feature at the Iowa MFA for a long time."
The Iowa MFA refers to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the country's first graduate program in creative writing. It's an incredibly prestigious deal, and many notable poets got schooled under Justice.
"A lot of poets cite Justice as a main influencer and teacher, and yet none of them write like Justice or like each other, which I think is really interesting," Cunningham adds.
Should University of Wynwood be awarded the grant, they plan to invite many of Justice's notable former students to wax poetic (they should be experts) about him, in addition to publishing a Spanish translation book of Justice's work.
"We'd love to invite some of his more prominent students down here to talk about him. Joey Graham, Dana Gioia, Rita Dove, Mark Strand -- these are all pretty big poets who studied under Justice."
They'd also put feelers out for potential essays or other contributions covering Justice's relationship with his hometown.
Cunningham says University of Wynwood also intends to implement some O, Miami,-style guerilla poetry efforts. "The idea is to familiarize people with him, so we want to find some interesting ways to do that."
Knowing this crew, they'll be initiating a Hemingway Days-esque Justice impersonation contest or taping his poems to beer bottles. Whatever they do, it's bound to be an exercise in literary eclecticism. In other words, awesome.
If they do get the money (the announcement would come in December), they'd hope to host the event in spring of next year. "Even if we don't get it, do we do it anyway? That's somethign else we're going to explore -- to see if we could do it without the grant and if we could, what it would look like," Cunningham adds.
You can check out all the finalists and follow the Miami Knight Arts Challenge process here. Later this year, everyone will have a chance to vote for their faves, so if you dig the University of Wynwood's concept, bookmark this blog for future reference. As the relative local obscurity of Justice proves, forgetting is so easy.
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