Heather McHugh

Distinguished Poet & Critic
MacArthur "Genius" Award
Griffin Prize: Translation
Founder of CareGifted

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  • An Evening with Heather McHugh


“Her writing is so alert to itself, so alert to language, it’s like watching a dancer on a mirrored floor, stepping on her steps. She’s practically playing with her words as she writes them down.” —Robert Hass

“All of her lines are demanding, especially her last lines—puzzling yet provocative, they’re like little switches that flip at the end, sending the reader back into the poet’s maze of words.” —New York Times Book Review

“By turning language into courage, [McHugh] manages to bounce you back from despair, keeps moving fear and pity into precarious laughter. Her poems are open, resilient, invisibly twisted: part safety net, part trampoline.” —Voice Literary Supplement

Heather McHugh is the author of nine volumes of poetry including Muddy Matterhorn (2020), Eyeshot (2004), which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and a New York Times Notable book, Hinge and Sign (1994), which was a finalist for the National Book Award and named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. Her most recent collection, Upgraded to Serious (2009), was described by the New Yorker as “animated but serious…meaning and humor can be found in a single word.” Her other titles include The Father of Predicaments (2001), Shades (1988), To the Quick (1987), A World of Difference (1981), and Dangers: Poems (1977). McHugh served as the editor of The Best American Poetry in 2007.

An acclaimed translator, McHugh has done versions of poems by Jean Follain and Horace. She worked alongside translator Nikolai Popov on Glottal Stop: Poems of Paul Celan, which was called “dazzlingly creative” by J.M.Coetzee and won the Griffin International Poetry Prize in 2001. The New York Times Book Review wrote “In Glottal Stop, the translators take risks, but the poetic rewards are at times breathtaking.” The same team of McHugh and Popov translated the poems of Blaga Dimitrova, who served for a while as vice president of Bulgaria after the political changes of 1989.

Her honors include two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, PEN, a Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2009 she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant”—the judges citation described her as “a poet whose intricately patterned compositions explore various aspects of the human condition and inspire wonder in the unexpected associations that language can evoke;” and her work as combining “a range of literary traditions in poems that focus on our struggle to mediate the world and our place in it through the filter of sensory perceptions. She mines words for contradictions and double-meanings, offering the reader an expansive, fresh perspective on such themes as love and mortality.”

A dedicated scholar and teacher, McHugh published a collection of criticism, Broken English: Poetry and Partiality and, for 30 years, held a chair at the University of Washington in Seattle. She has also served as a visiting faculty member at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers for over 30 years.

McHugh’s current project is CAREGIFTED, a nonprofit organization that grants respite to long-term family caregivers—“full-time caregivers of the most severely disabled have sacrificed their own leisure, resources and ambitions to serve those unable to serve themselves; such acts of love go largely unnoticed because these caregivers are generally confined to their homes, mired in unpaid labors”—by offering weeks away in inspiring locations—scenic vacation spots where caregivers can refresh their perspectives and record their views in words and images, returning home better rested and represented. www.caregifted.org 

Short Bio

Heather McHugh is the author of nine volumes of poetry, including Muddy Matterhorn, Eyeshot, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and Hinge and Sign, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant, and her work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, PEN, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She has been a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2006. For 30 years she held a chair at the University of Washington in Seattle.



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