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Author and poet Jay Parini ’70, whose most recent book, The Art of Teaching, was published by Oxford University Press in December 2004, is the recipient of the 47th annual Sarah Josepha Hale Award for lifetime contribution to New England literature. He is a professor of English at Middlebury (Vt.) College.

Winners of the Hale award, which is sponsored by the Newport (Vt.) library, are chosen by a panel of 12 writers and scholars. First presented to Robert Frost in 1956, the award has since been given to writers such as Ogden Nash, May Sarton, and Arthur Miller.

Parini is director of Middlebury’s creative writing program, on the staff of the Bread Loaf’s Writers Conference, and the author of more than 15 books. His first work, Singing in Time, was published in 1972. His recent projects include the 2,000-page, four-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of Literature, for which he commissioned and edited every article.

Parini writes all of his poetry in a diner in Middlebury, where he sits for an hour or so every morning after dropping his children off at school.

In presenting the award, Library Journal John Berry said the literary world owed a “deep and special debt” to Parini for his contributions to literature — notably his “fair and balanced” biography of Frost — and for his political activism through writing and speaking. For his part, Parini says the award was “a nice tradition” — and criticized the war in Iraq.

After graduating from Lafayette with a degree in English and history, Parini earned a Ph.D. at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He lived abroad from 1968 to 1975, then returned to teach at Dartmouth College. He joined Middlebury in 1982.

Parini credits Lafayette with helping to launch him from an “ugly but interesting” mining town in Pennsylvania. There, he lived in a house without books except for the King James Bible, which he read over and over.

“I learned how to read and write (at Lafayette) under the influence of wonderful teachers like Jim Lusardi and Edward Brown,” recalls Parini. “I drew close to my work there, and learned what a community of scholars and thinkers feels like.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles