by Anna Bjorlin
News Editor

An accomplished writer specializing in contemporary poetry and fiction, Professor Amy McCann recently celebrated an eminent achievement: her poetry manuscript, a 60-page collection of poems titled ‘Yes Thorn,’ has been selected as the winner of the Tupelo Press’s 2013 First/Second Book Award.

As the winner, not only will her manuscript be published by the respected Tupelo literary press, but McCann will also receive a cash prize of $3,000.

“I entered dozens of contests before winning this one; it still feels a little like winning the lottery,” said McCann. “I’m especially excited about publishing with Tupelo. There are many other excellent publishers, but I have a lot of respect for that particular press and have been reading (and loving) their books for many years now.”


Professor Amy McCann recently returned from a year-long sabbatical after winning a McKnight Award for her poetry. During this time, she worked on new poems and revised her manuscript, which was instrumental in her being chosen this summer as the winner of the Tupelo Press’s 2013 First/Second Book Award. (photo by Katelynn Hansen)

Originally from Illinois, the published poet now lives in Minneapolis and has been teaching English classes at the University of Northwestern – Saint Paul for the past seven years. McCann began concentrating seriously on poetry after taking her first creative writing class at UNW with Judith Hougen during her sophomore year.

“Once I took Hougen’s creative writing class here at Northwestern, there was no turning back,” said McCann. “I switched from a literature to a writing concentration, then after graduation worked for a couple of years as an editor before heading to grad school for my MFA.”

McCann described her poetry’s subject matter as being traditionally “poetic,” addressing and describing topics ranging from familial and romantic relationships to nature, pain and God. She believes these subjects are essential, not exhausted, and tries to take her writing in interesting directions.

“I gravitate toward poetry because of its openness—it tends to ask as many (or more) questions than it answers, which is something I resonate with,” said McCann. “Poetry entrusts a great deal to its readers, presenting them with images and sensations without dictating exactly how they should feel about them. While I read—and love—a lot of fiction and nonfiction, I almost always go for poems when it comes to writing. I can’t get over how great it is to be able to condense such big thoughts and feelings into such small spaces—it feels almost like a magic trick.”

In addition to receiving the award from the Tupelo Press, McCann also received a prestigious McKnight award over a year ago, and is now known as a McKnight Artist Fellow in Poetry.

“The McKnight award was amazing. It’s another contest of sorts where you can send in an application that’s basically a little collection of poems, and then a judge chooses four Fellows who each receive $25,000 to support his or her writing,” said McCann. “It’s such a generous fellowship, and the foundation gives a lot of autonomy to the Fellows in deciding how to spend the funding.”

After winning the McKnight competition, McCann decided to take a year-long sabbatical from which she recently returned.

“I wanted to take advantage of my fellowship year to really focus on my writing. I spent all summer and fall working on new poems and revising my manuscript; having all that time was a huge blessing and was instrumental in my manuscript getting picked up this summer,” McCann said.

McCann has put forth a lot of effort in sending her writing and manuscripts out to various publishers and competitions, and her work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines (including The Gettysburg Review, The Hotel Amerika, The Kenyon Review, The Third Coast and The West Branch).

“For the future, I’m now working on poems for a second manuscript,” said McCann. “I’m also working along with Professor Kim Aaron on translating some Spanish-language poetry into English for eventual publication.”

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