Marvin Bell, 63MFA, is a poet of international stature and a key contributor to the widespread fame of the UIs creative writing program.
Having graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1963, Bell returned to teach from 1965 until his retirement in 2005, inspiring generations of poets to find their own voices and confidence as writers. His former students have published more than 200 books, receiving all the major book awards, and three have won Pulitzer Prizes.
A prolific poet with a lifelong habit of always writing the assignments he gives his students, Bell has garnered worldwide attention and critical acclaim for his 18 volumes of poetry and essays. He has received the Lamont Award from the Academy of American Poets, an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Poetry Reviews Shestack Prize, has won Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and has held Senior Fulbright appointments to Yugoslavia and Australia. His poems have appeared in every major periodical, from the New Yorker to the Atlantic Monthly, and are included in nearly every anthology of the most important poets of the 20th century.
Christopher Merrill, director of the UI International Writing Program, says, Marvin has revealed himself to be not only a poet of depth and grace, who has at his command an astonishing array of formal strategies, techniques, and gifts, but also a relentless explorer&. His concerns—emotional, aesthetic, philosophical—are wide-ranging, as befits his restless imagination. He is by turns a prophet and a comic, a singer and a wise man&.
Respected also for his thoughtful, gentle demeanor as a lecturer and educator, Bell has given readings all over the world, including the White House during the Carter administration, the Library of Congress, and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC—as well as in Ireland, France, the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Australia, and Canada.
He is equally at home reading for the Academy of American Poets or talking with readers at the Iowa City Public Library—where a poem of his written for the expansion of the library hangs near the entrance. In addition to teaching for Iowa, he has taught at scores of writers festivals and conferences. Selected to be the State of Iowas first poet laureate in 2000, Bell was reappointed in 2002 to a second term.
Another part of his literary legacy took shape in 2000, when Bell helped establish an annual workshop for inner-city public-school teachers who serve as after-school poetry coaches for the America SCORES program. Each summer, 20 or so SCORES teachers arrive in Iowa City for the Urban Teachers Workshop. They return to their colleagues armed with inspiration and methods for using poetry writing to foster confidence and imagination.
Well known to the international literary community, Marvin Bell has achieved the stature of one of the great poets of his generation. In addition, he has enriched the lives of his students and colleagues at the University of Iowa. In the words of UI President David Skorton, Marvin Bells service to the UI and to the State runs long and deep.