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Diane Seuss on the "wonderful shock" of winning a Pulitzer Prize

Close up three-quarter portrait of Diane Seuss. She has medium-length dark hair and bangs, wears dark eyeliner and is looking toward the camera with a subtle smile.
Photo courtesy of Diane Seuss
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Gabe Montesanti
Diane Seuss, 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry winner.

Seuss said she was still absorbing the news that her book frank: sonnets won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

One of Seuss’ previous collections, Four-Legged Girl, was a Pulitzer finalist in 2016. But Seuss, a Kalamazoo College professor emerita and 1978 alum who’s originally from Niles, said she had no idea who the finalists were this year until Monday. That’s when the Pulitzer Prize Board announced them on a livestream, just before announcing the winner.

When she heard frank: sonnets was a finalist, Seuss said she “about fell off the couch.”

And when she won?

“I mean, I was shaking. I felt like I was going to pass out,” Seuss said.

“I took a minute before I called my mother, who’s living in Niles,” she added. “She’s 92 years old. And told her. She didn’t believe me, she thought I was joking.”

Graywolf Press
Graywolf Press

Seuss said frank: sonnets seems to have found an audience even among readers who don’t regularly seek out poetry. She thinks the sonnet form may be part of the appeal, as well as the book’s focus on “not huge things, but a lot of times, small things.”

“Maybe the message of the book, one message of the book, is that an individual life has importance and meaning,” she said.

Seuss said frank: sonnets is a memoir, one in which she’s honest about her “mistakes and foibles.” She suggested that not making herself out to be a hero may have connected with readers as well.

Fans of the book have shared pictures of it by the Coliseum, the Louvre, and in African countries and India, Seuss added.

“And then in my hometown of Niles,” she said. “There’s just this sense with it of kind of a shared interconnection and humanness that I feel is way beyond me.

“And that’s what feels so good about it,” she said. “Maybe during this very hard time for humanity, this thing has been good for some people. And granted some permissions, maybe, to some other poets who aren’t coastal, who aren’t urban, who are from small places, who are from the working class.”

“I hope those permissions have been granted to other writers from reading frank,” Seuss said.