Presented by Thomas K. Wetherell
President, The Florida State University
May 2, 2003
David Kirby: Extraordinary Poet, Prolific Scholar, Celebrated Teacher, and Respected Citizen of Your University and Professional Communities.
You came to the Florida State University in 1969 with your Ph.D. fresh from Johns Hopkins University at the tender age of twenty-four. A boy wonder, you have fully realized your promise during thirty-four years at our institution. You have published an amazing twenty-two books, averaging one every year-and-a-half, plus hundreds of articles, reviews, and individual poems. Representing nearly every genre, your books include critical studies of nineteenth and twentieth-century American literature, meditations on modern culture, children's stories, pedagogical works, and a series of ever stronger volumes of poetry.
Your poems have evolved into complex, commodious, overlapping narratives blending stand-up humor and knock-down wisdom. They have won four Pushcart Prizes, the Guy Owen Prize, the Kay Deeter Award, the James Dickey Prize, and have twice been included in Best American Poetry. Your volumes of poetry have won the Brittingham Prize and the Millennium Cultural Recognition Award. You have received four Fellowships from the Florida Arts Council, one from the National Endowment for the Arts, and you've just won a Guggenheim Fellowship.
A voracious reader, you typically publish thirty or forty book reviews per year. Readers of the New York Times are familiar with your frequent contributions. You sit on the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle and help to select their prestigious prizes. No one in America can be better equipped to answer the question What Is a Book? - the interrogative title of your most recent volume.
While publishing so prodigiously, you have also distinguished yourself as a teacher. You have won University Teaching Awards in 1992 and 1997 as well as Teaching Incentive Program Awards in 1994 and 1999. You have directed a staggering twenty-five Undergraduate Honors theses, forty-one Masters theses, and twenty Ph.D. dissertations. With your careful mentoring, your doctoral students have gone on to successful careers of their own. You have also taught frequently in our International Programs in England, Italy, France, and Spain, helping to raise them to their present level of excellence.
In sum, your career represents the very best in scholarship and creative activity, teaching, and service. Therefore, on the recommendation of the faculty of the Florida State University and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the State Board of Education and the Board of Trustees, I hereby name you, David Kirby, the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor for 2003-2004.