When Carmen Giménez Smith feels the pull of emotions, her exhalations come in the form of words. She turns these into poems, which inspire awards from many prestigious organizations. Her most recent is the 2020 Albert Lee Sturm Award for Excellence in Performance and Creative Arts from the Mu of Virginia chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

The award committee gave the professor in the Virginia Tech Department of English the honor for her book “Be Recorder,” citing its timeliness, candor, and technical artistry. 

“‘Be Recorder’ is everything poetry needs to be in our age of hateful, anti-intellectual, race-baiting: deeply thoughtful, urgently provocative, and endlessly imaginative,” wrote one of the committee members.

Another described her poems as imperative, commanding the speaker and the reader to take action. 

“I describe ‘Be Recorder’ as a very 21st century book that considers the class and racial imbalances — particularly for Latinx folks — that lead us to division, but also tries to imagine a different type of future,” Giménez Smith said. “Its call to action might be to take a look around and see how much mercy we show each other in light of a society in which we’re often thinking about material and class gains instead of thinking about each other.”

This project began with a challenge from another poet to write a quick poem, which Giménez Smith did. Then she spent the next 10 years working on it, and it evolved into an epic-length work.

“The poem really began influencing my other poems toward a political bent, so I built the book around ideas of feminism, Latinx, and queer identity,” she said.

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Works that receive the Sturm Award for Excellence in Performance and Creative Arts express the values of learning central to the Phi Beta Kappa mission. The society advances studies in the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. The award is in remembrance of Albert Lee Sturm, a university research professor in political science and a founding member of Virginia Tech’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. 

As a Sturm Award recipient, the Mu will recognize Giménez Smith during a future ceremony. She will receive a monetary award and a plaque for display in the Department of English for the coming year.

The Sturm Award is not the first to honor Giménez Smith’s efforts with “Be Recorder.” The book made the short list for the 2020 PEN Open Book Award and the 2019 National Book Award for poetry. 

In addition, in 2019 Giménez Smith received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her upcoming book “Nostalgia Has Such a Short Half-Life.”  

“It’s a book that considers pop culture as folklore, and pop culture changes so much,” she said. “So I’m working to find a way for speaking to it that’ll survive the couple of years it takes for a book to come back into the world.”

Giménez Smith’s other winning publications include “Goodbye, Flicker,” which won the Juniper Prize for Poetry in 2012; “Milk and Filth,” which was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle award in poetry; and “Bring Down the Little Birds,” which won an American Book Award. Her other published poetry collections include “Odalisque in Pieces,” “The City She Was,” and “Cruel Futures.” She is also coeditor of “Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing.”

“Professor Giménez Smith’s poetry speaks to the social climate of the modern society and is a voice we should take time to read,” said Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, chair of the Department of English.

Written by Leslie King