Gell Prize 2008 Winner

Writers & Books Announces Winner in First Annual Gell Poetry Prize

Writers & Books Executive Director, Joe Flaherty, has named Roz Spafford as the 2008 Gell Poetry Prize winner. The prize, awarded for an “outstanding unpublished book-length collection of poetry” is named in honor of Kenneth and Geraldine Gell, benefactors of Writers & Books. Ms. Spafford’s book, Requiem, was selected from manuscripts submitted from all over the United States, Canada, and Asia. As winner, Ms. Spafford will receive an honorarium of one thousand dollars, a two-week fellowship at the Gell Center of the Finger Lakes and her book will be published by Big Pencil Press. Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Carl Dennis, judged the contest.

Until recently Roz Spafford taught writing at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she served as provost of College Eight. While at UCSC, she was a negotiator for the American Federation of Teachers and active in local politics. For several years, she wrote a highly recognized column on media and cultural criticism, titled Meditations, as well as book reviews for newspapers throughout northern California. Her poems, short stories and excerpts from her novel (in manuscript) have appeared in numerous literary magazines including, Viz Inter-arts; A Trans Genre Anthology; Quarry West; the Bellingham Review; Nimrod; and in broadside by Moving Parts Press. Ms. Spafford now lives in Canada where she works as a free-lance writer. Requiem is her first book.

The Gell Prize is named after Kenneth and Geraldine Gell of Rochester NY. Dr, Gell earned his doctorate in History and spent his entire career teaching in the Rochester City School District. Beginning in 1929, the Gells spent two and a half years searching for an ideal location to build a vacation and retirement home. They finally discovered it on a beautiful, secluded 24-acre parcel in the Bristol Hills situated in the Finger Lakes region of central New York. The breathtaking views, wildflowers and animal life were a wonderful contrast to their hectic life in Rochester, 35 miles away. They named their house “The Beagle,” after the ship that carried Charles Darwin on his voyages.

Dr. Gell was a man of diverse interests, with a passion for the arts and education. After retiring, the Gells, discussed ways in which their dream home might be used to benefit others. They wanted the spirit of creativity and the quest for learning to continue on when they could no longer live here. In 1988 Dr. and Mrs. Gell donated their home and property to Writers & Books of Rochester. Today, The Gell Center serves as a writer’s retreat, conference center and annex for the classes and programs offered by Writers & Books. The Gell Center continues the mission of nurturing lifelong learning and respect for nature that were essential values in the lives of Dr. and Mrs. Gell.

The 2008 Gell Prize judge was Carl Dennis, an internationally recognized American poet and educator. In 2002 Mr. Dennis’s book Practical Gods, won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Dennis attended Oberlin College and the University of Chicago prior to receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1961. In 1966, Dennis received his Ph.D. in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley. That same year, he became an assistant professor of English at the University at Buffalo, where he has spent most of his career. In 2002, he became an artist-in-residence at the school Dennis has also served on the faculty of the graduate program at Warren Wilson College.

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Dennis has received other notable awards for his poetry, including a Fellowship at the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy; a Guggenheim Fellowship (1984); a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry (1988), and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (2000).

Founded in 1981, Writers & Books is one of the oldest and largest community-based literary centers in the United States.  The organization was founded on the principle that the written and spoken word are central to our lives and culture. Writers & Books’ mission is to promote reading and writing as life-long activities for people of every age, background and means.


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