Rutgers Names Internationally Acclaimed Poet as First Henry Rutgers Presidential Professor

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A. Van Jordan will join Rutgers University–Newark’s esteemed creative writing faculty


At the Rutgers University Board of Governors meeting today, it was announced that award-winning poet A. Van Jordan will be the first Henry Rutgers Presidential Professor.  Acclaimed for his sweeping breadth of vision and depth of insight, Jordan will join the Rutgers University–Newark Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program ( and the English department of the Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N) Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FASN) in fall 2014.

Rutgers University President Robert Barchi spoke to the significance of this appointment: “The Henry Rutgers Presidential Professorships, established in the first 100 days of the Strategic Plan as part of the initiative to augment faculty excellence, are intended to build on Rutgers’ strengths by recruiting preeminent senior scholars whose work advances the plan’s goals.  The recruitment of A. Van Jordan, whose broad body of poetry has garnered national and international accolades, directly addresses the plan’s integrating theme that targets the arts and human experience.  This is an auspicious and exemplary opening appointment for Rutgers’ new signature faculty recruitment program.”

Joining Rutgers University–Newark from the University of Michigan, where he has been a full professor since 2009, Jordan has earned high praise from many of the nation’s most accomplished writers, reflected in a long list of noteworthy awards and honors. Reviewers often remark on his facility in shedding light on human relations while employing a broad range of subject matter, from quantum physics to classic and contemporary film.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (Rutgers College ’62) has lauded Jordan’s work, saying it “demonstrates poetry's power to be at once intimate and wide-ranging,” an indication of what has inspired juries of eminent peers such as Joyce Carol Oates, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Simon Schama to bestow upon him the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.  His other honors include the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Times (of London) Literary Supplement Best Book of the Year award, and selection for the anthology Best American Poetry 2013.  He also has held a Guggenheim Fellowship and a United States Artists Williams Fellowship.  Earlier this year, he was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award, and he currently is on the PEN/Open Book Award Long List for his latest collection, The Cineaste (2013), as well as a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for the same collection.  His previous collections of poetry include Rise (2001), M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A (2005), and Quantum Lyrics (2007). 

Rutgers University–Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor sees Jordan’s work as encapsulating the kind of boundary-crossing scholarship that is the university’s greatest intellectual strength.  “The highest impact, most enduring work of our faculty and students at Rutgers University–Newark tends to occur when we challenge conventional boundaries, whether between disciplines, between social groups, or between the ‘ivory tower’ and the public we serve.  Van’s extraordinary body of work at the intersection where the eternal questions meet the great challenges of our time exemplifies that strength, whether he is leading us through meditations on our understanding of the physical essence of the universe and its gravitational pull in our daily lives, or helping us re-examine race relations by adjusting the focus of traditional lenses on films by D.W. Griffith and Mel Brooks.  We are ecstatic that Van will be joining us and we can’t wait to work with him on forging new connections across RU-N and with our partners in greater Newark.”

Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Jordan earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and M.A. in communications from Howard University. Following work for several years as a journalist, Jordan became interested in writing poetry after attending readings in the Washington, D.C., area. He returned to graduate school, receiving an M.F.A. in creative writing from Warren Wilson College.  He also has earned academic credentials in film studies from New York University and screenwriting and production from Vancouver Film School.

M.F.A. Director Jayne Anne Phillips, herself a National Book Award Finalist in fiction and former Guggenheim Fellow, celebrates Professor Jordan's appointment: "The Rutgers University–Newark M.F.A. Program welcomes Van Jordan as a major American poet; he joins Rigoberto Gonzalez, Brenda Shaughnessy, Rachel Hadas, and John Keene in one of the strongest, most diverse poetry faculties in the nation.  His concerns and achievements deepen the M.F.A.'s commitment to our ‘Real Lives, Real Stories’ community outreach through programs such as the Writers at Newark Reading Series and further strengthen our teaching and mentorship of talented poets." 

Prior to his appointment at Michigan, Jordan was a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin and had taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the College of New Rochelle, and Prince George’s Community College. He continues to teach in the low-residency M.F.A. program in creative writing of Warren Wilson College.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to have Van joining FASN and our faculty of world-acclaimed creative writers,” said FAS-N Dean Jan Lewis.  “His work is simply breathtaking in its scope, drawing connections across language, visual culture, social relations, and—perhaps most stunning of all—the physical sciences, and he brings a wealth of teaching experience in diverse environments.  In his temperament and remarkable range, he is a perfect fit for our faculty, who are not only astonishingly good writers of fiction, poetry, essays, translation, and creative non-fiction, but also wonderfully down-to-earth, dedicated teachers, who deeply engage the greater Newark and global communities.”

Characteristically unassuming, Jordan feels like his impending transition is both exciting and natural. “Not only have I admired the work of many of my colleagues in the Rutgers University–Newark creative writing program, but I also have friends among them, a few before I was ever published. So I know they’re doing important work both on the page and in the classroom; I just hope to contribute to the important work they’ve been doing for some time now.”