Ashbery and Martin to Headline 50th Anniversary of MFA Program for Poets and Writers

AMHERST, Mass. – Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery and novelist Valerie Martin, winner of Britain’s Orange Prize, will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Master of Fine Arts Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst March 28-29.

Ashbery will headline Saturday evening’s program at the Marriot Center in UMass Amherst’s Campus Center. MFA alumnus Rob Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress and founding publisher of the MFA’s literary journal jubilat, will discuss the significance of MFAs as public art. The evening will include a salute to poet and longtime MFA professor James Tate.

Martin, an MFA alumna and celebrated author, will kickoff the anniversary celebrations on Friday evening. She will be joined by RainTaxi editor and MFA alumnus Eric Lorberer, an advocate for independent publishing and literary culture, and other special guests.

On Saturday from 2-4 p.m. Bartlett Hall will be transformed into a “Living Museum” featuring a collection of publications and ephemera recording the significant contributions the UMass Amherst alumni faculty and alumni have made to the world of letters from the 1960s to today. Highlights include a letter from Senator Edward M. Kennedy to Tate on his 1992 Pulitzer Prize. At 4 p.m., the publications and exhibits will be delivered to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library to become part of the MFA’s Special Collection.

Ashbery’s many collections of poetry include “Quick Question,” “Planisphere” and “Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems.” In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, his awards include the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships and a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2011, he received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, and in 2012 a National Humanities Medal, presented by President Obama at the White House.

Martin’s newest book, “The Ghost of the Mary Celeste” was released in January from Nan Talese/Random House. Her other books include Britain’s Orange Prize winner “Property,” “Trespass,” “Mary Reilly,” and “Italian Fever.” Martin is a professor of English at Mount Holyoke College.

Lorberer received his MFA from UMass Amherst. His essay “The Ashbery Bridge” was selected for The Best American Essays 2008. He is editor of the award-winning Rain Taxi Review of Books, and director of the Minneapolis St. Paul’s Twin Cities Book Festival.

Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, has also worked as programs director for the Poetry Society of America and for the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. As an MFA student at UMass Amherst, he founded jubilat, an award-winning literary journal.

The readings on Friday, March 28 and Saturday, March 29 start at 8 p.m. They are free and open to the public. Reservations are appreciated.