Kay Pedersen Ryan

One of our own named Poet Laureate – Library of Congress!Kay Ryan

Kay Pedersen Ryan, who also graduated with our class, was named the 16th Poet Laureate for the United States.



Articles about Kay on the Library of Congress website

Some of Kay’s Books

AVHS Class of ’63 Grad Receives Genius Award

Kay Ryan“Few poets know how to compress thought so elegantly, while simultaneously keeping their lines so seemingly loose and vernacular,” John Freeman wrote in a review of “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems” by Kay Ryan, one of this year’s brand-new recipients of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

Ryan told the media that the grant, which translates into $500,000 over the next five years, would provide her with something few writers ever completely have: the freedom to do what she wants.

Grants sometimes go to figures doing important work but who are otherwise unknown to the public at large. That hasn’t applied, however, to Ryan in recent years. She has enjoyed attention as U.S. poet laureate and the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize. She’s also been celebrated in reviews, including Freeman’s in the pages of The Times, for a clear style that puts her in the company of Robert Frost.

In the poem “Shift” she declares:

It’s hard for us

to imagine how small

a part we play in

holding up the tall

spires we believe

our minds erect.

Like Frost’s verse, however, such seeming simplicity in Ryan’s poetry doesn’t preclude subtlety, as Freeman also noted. “Turning each corner of a Ryan poem,” he wrote in that same review, “the eye drops to the next solid, well-planked surface, as she guides us closer to the point where collapsing complications are swiftly subverted.” —

Nick Owchar Photo: Kay Ryan. Credit: Christina Koci Hernandez/The Grove Press/Associated Press

Kay Ryan Awarded Pulitzer Prize for Poetry – 2011Kay Ryan LANCASTER – Kay Ryan, an Antelope Valley High School and Antelope Valley College graduate appointed U.S. poet laureate in 2008, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.Columbia University on Monday, announced that the Pulitzer Prize Board named Ryan as this year’s recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, according to Steve Standerfer, AV College’s director of Public and Governmental Relations.The board awarded Ryan the prize based on her book “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems.”
Board members extolled her book as “a body of work spanning 45 years – witty, rebellious and yet tender, a treasure trove of an iconoclastic and joyful mind.”Pulitzer Prizes for poetry are awarded to American authors who produce “a distinguished volume of original verse.” Ryan, nee Pedersen, graduated from Antelope Valley High School in 1963, then attended AVC for two years, earning her Associate in Arts degree in 1965.”It was during Ryan’s two years attending AVC that she was introduced to (the) poetry that was to influence her writing,” Standerfer noted.From Antelope Valley College she transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she attained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees prior to joining the faculty as an English instructor at the College of Marin in Kentfield, roughly 16 miles north of San Francisco near San Rafael.

She taught there for more than 30 years and, at the same time, wrote several poetry books, Standerfer stated.

As the nation’s 16th poet laureate at the Library of Congress, Ryan joined the ranks of distinguished poets selected for that position.

“During two one-year terms as poet laureate (beginning in 2008), Ryan sought to create an appreciation for poetry as well as pay tribute to the work being done through the nation’s community colleges,” Standerfer said.

Ryan, 65, returned to AVC in December 2009 to read her poetry, take part in a question-and-answer session with the audience and sign copies of her books. She was greeted in the campus cafeteria by a standing room-only crowd, who listened intently as she captivated them with her every word.

“Kay has been an uplifting presence as laureate during the past year, and her poetry continues to awe and delight readers,” said James H. Billington, head librarian at the Library of Congress, when he appointed her to the prestigious post.

In a July 13, 2009 Newsweek article titled “The Reluctant Poet Laureate,” writer Louisa Thomas noted Ryan’s introduction to poetry at AVC influenced her writing: “That is where she began reading poetry, when a stern teacher led her to Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, John Donne (all poets who, not coincidentally, echo in her own work) in part by demanding that their poetry be taken seriously or not at all,” Thomas wrote.

Numerous poetry buffs have drawn parallels between Ryan and Dickinson.

Ryan was born in San Jose in 1945, but lived in Rosamond for a time.

Back when Ryan was appointed poet laureate, a former high school classmate shared some school-day memories.

“I had a class with her our senior year anatomy and physiology taught by Mr. (Harold) Huffman,” said Connie Pursell, who worked in the health care insurance field in Orange County. “It was the year we dissected a cat. I sat directly in front of Ryan.

“She was a real cut-up, always had a wry or amusing one-liner for most any occasion, and Mr. Huffman often stopped his lectures to wait for her to be quiet. Mr. Huffman tried to be stern, but even he was amused.

“She had that ‘wild and crazy’ sort of enthusiasm, like Steve Martin or Robin Williams. I laughed a lot over her comments,” Pursell recalled.

Today, Ryan reportedly is much more reserved and typically shies away from publicity, according to a Library of Congress report.
v “I came from sort of a self-contained people who didn’t believe in public exposure, and public investigation of the heart was rather repugnant to me,” the Library of Congress report quoted Ryan as saying. “I have tried to live very quietly, so I could be happy.”

In that she appears much like Dickinson, who in the final nearly 31 years of her life never left the boundaries of her family’s Amherst property. Ryan described herself to The Associated Press as a “modern hermit” who enjoys riding her mountain bike.

Ryan has lived in Marin County since 1971 and has shared a home with her life partner, Carol Adair, for 30 years, the Library of Congress reported.

“In her poems, Ryan enjoys re-examining the beauty of everyday phrases and mining the cracks in common human experience,” the Library of Congress report noted.

Her work has earned her the 2005 gold medal for poetry from the San Francisco Commonwealth Club; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from The Poetry Foundation and a Guggenheim fellowship in 2004; a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and the Maurice English Poetry Award in 2001; and several other honors dating back to 1995.

Since 2006, she has been a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her duties as poet laureate included opening the Library of Congress’ annual literary series with a reading of her work. Before that, she was be the featured guest at the library’s National Book Festival.

Ryan, who succeeded Charles Simic as poet laureate, shares the honor with a list of predecessors including Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glck, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.

“Kay Ryan is a distinctive and original voice within the rich variety of contemporary American poetry,” Billington said. “She writes easily understandable short poems on improbable subjects. Within her compact compositions, there are many surprises in rhyme and rhythm, and in sly wit pointing to subtle wisdom.”

Fairfax, Woodacre residents named Guggenheim Fellows by Gary Klien, IJ reporter – Marin Independent JournalTuesday, April 13, 2004
Information sent in by Neil Wiley (no relation to other person in the article)
A writer from Fairfax and an artist in Woodacre have been named 2004 Guggenheim Fellows. Kay Ryan, a poet, and William T. Wiley, a nationally recognized visual artist, are among 185 artists, writers and scholars from around the world who were awarded fellowships this year. The winners will share a grant pool of $6.9 million. More than 3,200 people applied for the fellowships, awarded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in New York. The fellowships are awarded to people who have shown “exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts,” according to the foundation’s Web site. Ryan, a part-time English instructor at College of Marin for the past 33 years, said this application was her fourth try. She said her grant is for about $40,000. “I was utterly delighted,” said Ryan, 58, who has lived in Fairfax since 1979. “It’s never something that you can expect. “The assumption is, they will buy you some freedom. They will remove the financial burden from you for a while. They mean to make your work easier for you to get done.” Ryan’s poetry has been published in several collections, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic and other national publications. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of California at Los Angeles. Wiley, a 66-year-old Indiana native, has been producing art in his Woodacre studio since 1968. He has been described as an early force behind the “Bay Area Funk Art” movement, a style in which artists use cast-off materials to make whimsical and irreverent creations. “You have to feel it’s alive and not some formula that you’re repeating,” Wiley, describing his work, told the Independent Journal in an interview last August. Wiley has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. His work has been exhibited extensively in the United States and abroad. Previous Guggenheim winners from Marin have included the late medical professor Malcolm Miller, author Annie Lamott, architect Sim Van der Ryn and the late author Gina Berriault. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation was established in 1925 by U.S. Sen. Simon Guggenheim and his wife Olga Hirsh Guggenheim in memory of a son who died in 1922. More about Kay:http://www.salonmag.com/weekly/ryan.htmlhttp://www.danagioia.net/essays/eryan.htm



Honors add up for Marin poet By Gary Klien, IJ reporter – Marin Independent JournalTuesday, June 15, 2004
Information sent in by Neil Wiley
Kay Ryan has become the rarest of things – a poet with a six-figure income. But she’s quick to note that her run of good fortune seems much less of a windfall when “amortized over a long career.”
“You can’t be in it for the money,” said Ryan, 58, of Fairfax. “You can’t even think about money.”
Ryan has been awarded the 19th annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a $100,000 prize named for the drug company heiress. The announcement, by the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, came just weeks after Ryan was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship of about $40,000.“I think she’s created a body of work that’s going to last and is very distinctive, and I think her work hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves,” Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and a judge for the 2004 Lilly prize, told the Associated Press. The awarding of the Lilly prize was big news both in the poetry community and the mainstream press, here and abroad. With all the prize money coming in, Ryan joked she can trade her 1989 Saab for a new Hummer and become a “muscle poet.”

In reality, she plans to stash the money away as long-deferred savings. Ryan, a San Jose native who moved to Fairfax in 1979, said she did not begin writing seriously until she was about 30 years old, and that was followed by two decades of persistent rejection and nonrecognition.

Ryan structured her life around the writing – living modestly, earning a living as a part-time English instructor at College of Marin, and blocking out as much time as possible for privacy and creativity. She lives quietly in a wood-shingled home she shares with her longtime companion Carol Adair, whom she married at San Francisco City Hall in February, and their two cats, Wally and Ubu.

She writes in her pajamas, usually in the morning.

“It’s of the great perks of being a poet, the dress code,” she said.

Before she achieved widespread recognition, Ryan wondered whether her succinct poems would ever find their place in the world of serious poetry. Now they have been published in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic and numerous books.

Jane Hirshfield, a Mill Valley poet who has won a Guggenheim herself, said the recognition now being accorded to Ryan is “long-deserved, well-deserved.

“I believe what I said to her was, ‘Your canoe, kayak, sailboat, rubber-ducky, submarine and cruise ship have all come in,'” said Hirshfield, 51, a friend of Ryan’s for 20 years. “I am cheering wildly. This is terrific.”

While Ryan has no wild plans for her windfall, she does plan to take the fall semester off at College of Marin. She also plans to skip her annual tradition of filing for summertime unemployment benefits.

For any struggling poets thinking of throwing in the towel, Ryan has simple advice: “Don’t give up if you can help it. Otherwise, go ahead and give up.”

“If you can give up,” she said, “you weren’t made of the right stuff.”