Dubbed “the most popular poet in America” by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, Billy Collins is famous for conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor but often slip into quirky, tender, or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself. Collins was born in 1941 in New York City. He earned a BA from the College of the Holy Cross, and both an MA and PhD from the University of California-Riverside. In 1975 he cofounded the Mid-Atlantic Review with Michael Shannon. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the New York Foundation for the Arts and has taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and Lehman College, City University of New York, where he is a Distinguished Professor. He is also Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute in Florida, and a faculty member at the State University of New York-Stonybrook.
Collins’s level of fame is almost unprecedented in the world of contemporary poetry: his readings regularly sell out, and he received a six-figure advance when he moved publishers in the late 1990s. He served two terms as the US poet laureate, from 2001-2003, was New York State poet laureate from 2004-2006, and is a regular guest on National Public Radio programs. In 2002, as US poet laureate, Collins was asked to write a poem commemorating the first anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11. The reading was in front of a joint session of Congress held outside of Washington, DC.
Though Collins published throughout the 1980s, it was his fourth book, Questions about Angels (1991), that propelled him into the literary spotlight. The collection was selected by poet Ed Hirsch for the 1990 National Poetry Series. Collins’s subsequent work has been regularly lauded for its ability to connect with readers. Discussing Picnic, Lightning (1998) and its predecessor, The Art of Drowning (1995), John Taylor noted that Collins’s skillful, smooth style and inventive subject matter “helps us feel the mystery of being alive.” Taylor added: “Rarely has anyone written poems that appear so transparent on the surface yet become so ambiguous, thought-provoking, or simply wise once the reader has peered into the depths.”
Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes (2000) was the first Collins collection published outside the US. It selected work from his previous four books and was met with great acclaim in the UK. Poet and critic Michael Donaghy called Collins a “rare amalgam of accessibility and intelligence,” and A.L. Kennedy described the volume as containing “great verse, moving, intelligent and darkly funny.” Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001), the US version of Collins’s selected, had a tumultuous journey to print. The story, which garnered a front-page slot in the New York Times, originally cast Collins’s first publishers, the University of Pittsburgh Press, in an unfair light, accusing them of refusing to grant rights for poems requested by Random House for inclusion in Sailing Alone Around the Room. However, it later emerged that Random House had begun to produce the book without first securing rights from Pitt Poetry Press, a highly unusual move for a major publishing house to make. Dennis Loy Johnson reported on the controversy for Salon, noting that “ultimately it was Random House, not Pitt, that chose to delay the publication of Collins’s selected volume.” The battle between Random House and the University of Pittsburgh Press was public and uncharacteristic of the world of poetry publishing. When Sailing Alone Around the Room was finally published, in 2001, it was met with enthusiastic reviews and brisk sales.
Yahia Lababidi, Lebanese-Egyptian-American, is the author of 9 critically acclaimed books of poetry and prose. Lababidi's latest is a collection of spiritual aphorisms and poems, Learning to Pray (Kelsay Books, 2021). Prior to that, he published Revolutions of the Heart (Wipf & Stock, 2020) a mixed-genre compendium of his essays and conversations on crises and transformation.
Lababidi is also the author of 2 celebrated books of aphorisms: Signposts to Elsewhere (Hay House, 2019) and Where Epics Fail (Unbound, 2018) — the latter which he was invited by Oxford University to launch in the UK.
Featured on PBS NewsHour, Lababidi's aphorisms are generously endorsed by President Obama's inaugural poet, Richard Blanco. Lababidi's Balancing Acts: New & Selected Poems (1993-2015) debuted at #1 on Amazon's Hot New Releases.
His work has appeared on NPR, Best American Poetry, AGNI, World Literature Today, On Being with Krista Tippett and Lababidi has participated in international poetry festivals throughout the USA, Eastern Europe as well as the Middle East.
Nominated for a Pushcart Prize, three times, Lababidi's writing has been translated into several languages, including: Arabic, Hebrew, Slovak, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Dutch, and Swedish.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University.
Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, most recently Cast Away: Poems for Our Time (Greenwillow Books, 2020). Her other books of poetry include The Tiny Journalist (BOA Editions, 2019); Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners (Greenwillow Books, 2018); Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011); You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award; and 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002), a collection of new and selected poems about the Middle East.
She is also the author of several books of poetry and fiction for children, including Habibi (Simon Pulse, 1997), for which she received the Jane Addams Children's Book award in 1998.
Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit. About her work, the poet William Stafford has said, "her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life."
Her poems and short stories have appeared in various journals and reviews throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East. She has traveled to the Middle East and Asia for the United States Information Agency three times, promoting international goodwill through the arts.
Nye’s honors include awards from the International Poetry Forum and the Texas Institute of Letters, the Carity Randall Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award, and four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. In 1988, she received the Academy of American Poets' Lavan Award, judged by W. S. Merwin. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2010 to 2015 and is the Poetry Foundation's Young People's Poet Laureate from 2019-2021. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Sholeh Wolpé is an Iranian-born poet, playwright and literary translator. Her performances, solo or in collaboration with musicians and artists, have been hailed by audiences as mesmerizing.
Her literary work includes five collections of poetry, several plays, three books of translations, and three anthologies. Her most recent book, Abacus of Loss: A Memoir in Verse (Univ. of Arkansas Press, March 2022) is hailed by National Book Award finalist Ilya Kaminsky as a book “that created its own genre—a thrill of lyric combined with the narrative spell.”
Her translations of 12th century Sufi mystic poet, Attar, The Conference of the Birds (W.W. Norton & Co), and 20th century Iranian rebel poet Forugh Farrokhzad, Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad (Univ. of Arkansas Press) have garnered awards and established Wolpé as a celebrated literary translator.
Sholeh’s newest musical project is an oratorio, The Conference of the Birds—An Oratorio, composed by Fahad Siadat, and Choreographed by André Megerdichian. It will premiere at the Broad Stage in Los Angeles in June 2022.
She is the recipient of a 2014 PEN Heim, 2013 Midwest Book Award and 2010 Lois Roth Persian Translation prize, as well as artist fellowship and residencies in the U.S., Mexico, Spain, Australia and Switzerland. In 2020, She was named a “Cultural Trailblazer” by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs,
Sholeh’s plays have been produced by Oakland Theater Project, Inferno Theater, Northern Illinois University, and The Alternative Theater company, among others, and have been finalists and semifinalists at Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, Centenary Stage Women Playwrights, Ojai Playwrights Festival, and Ashland New Plays Festival. Her play LET ME IN is among Theaterfolks’ top ten plays requested by schools.
Sholeh travels internationally as a performing poet, writer and public speaker and has performed her literary work with world-renowned musicians at Quincy Jones Presents series at The Edye, Skirball Cultural Center Series, Los Angeles Aloud, The Broad Museum, LA County Museum of Art Ahmanson stage, Singapore Literature Festival, UNSW School of Arts and Media theater in Sydney, Jaipur Literature Festival, Kala Khoda Festival in Mumbai, Tasmania Art Center, Brisbane jazz stage, as well as other venues in China, Spain, India, UK, the US.
She has lived in Iran, Trinidad and the UK, and presently divides her time between Los Angeles and Barcelona. Sholeh is presently a Writer-in-Residence at the University of California, Irvine.