Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Lewisburg, Union County
Award-winning poet Shara McCallum was a featured poet in the 2014 Public Poetry Project of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book and is known for her collection Madwoman (2017), winner of the 2018 One Carribbean Media (OCM) Bocas Prize for Poetry.
Awards: Agnes Lynch Starrett Award, One Carribbean Media (OCM) Bocas Prize for Poetry, Public Poetry Project of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Shella Margaret Motton Book Prize, Witter Bynner Fellowship, The Academy of American Poets, Tennessee Individual Artist Grant in Literature, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
Shara McCallum was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and came to the US when she was nine years old. A first-generation graduate, she earned her BA from the University of Miami and went on to earn her MFA in Poetry from the University of Maryland and her PhD in Poetry and African American and Caribbean Literature from Bingham University in New York. McCallum is an award-winning author poetry collections, including The Water Between Us (1999), an Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize winner, the Shella Margaret Motton Book prize winner, Madwoman (2017), and others. Her poems have appeared in journals in five different countries, have been translated in Spanish and Romanian, and have been widely anthologized. She also writes essays and received a 2013 Witter Bynner Fellowship for her poetry. In 2014, her poem "Facing It" was selected for publication by the Public Poetry Project of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. McCallum has served as the Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry and taught Creative Writing and Literature at Bucknell University. At the time of this writing, she is now a Liberal Arts Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University.
Shara McCallum was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to Afro-Jamaican and Venezuelan parents and moved to the US at the age of nine. She began writing poetry when she was a teenager and later earned her BA from the University of Miami as a first-generation college student. She says in a Bucknell University video that highlights the benefits of a college that she “almost didn’t go to college… because I sort-of slipped through the cracks.” Lacking guidance with the college application process, McCallum says she applied to the University of Miami because her friends were living in Miami at the time, it was the only college she was really familiar with.
I went to school intending to be a doctor or a lawyer,” she states in her faculty profile. “[U]ntil I took a poetry workshop and realized someone with my background could actually be a writer.”
McCallum when on to pursue her MFA from the University of Maryland, where she had the opportunity to work poets Michael Collier, Michael Waters, Phillis Levin, Stan Plumly, and Merle Collins, who each influenced her work. She later earned a PhD in Poetry and African American and Caribbean Literature from Binghamton University in New York.
She has written multiple poetry collections, including The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems (2011), This Strange Land (2011), a finalist for the 2012 Once Carribean Media (OCM) Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Song of Thieves (2003), and The Water Between Us (1999), winner of the 1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. In 2017, she published Madwoman. Editors at Shelf Awareness say of the collection: "Female identity and cultural heritage entwine in this fierce, skillfully composed collection of poems." Madwoman won the 2018 One Caribbean Media (OCM) Bocas Prize for Poetry and the New England Poetry Club's 2018 Sheila Margaret Motton Book Prize.
Her poems have won a college prize from The Academy of American Poets, been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, and appeared in many journals, including The Antioch Review, Witness, The Iowa Review, and Verse. McCallum's poems have also been anthologized in over 20 publications, including The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology (ed. Michael Collier, 2000) and Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century.
In addition, her work has been published in the UK, Caribbean, Latin America, and Israel, reprinted in textbooks and anthologies of African American, Caribbean, and World Literatures, and has been translated into Spanish and Romanian. "Poetry helps me explore the ways we understand complex notions of identity,” she says. “Whether that's personal, familial, or cultural."
McCallum also writes essays, such as "Snapshots in Black and White," a piece dealing with the experience of being of mixed race that appeared in the 2002 Diversity Issue of Creative Nonfiction. She is the recipient of a Tennessee Individual Artist Grant in Literature, a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and a 2011 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
McCallum has served as faculty in the MFA program at the University of Memphis, the Stonecoast Low-Residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine, and in Bucknell University's Creative Writing Program, including a position as the Director of the Stradler Center for Poetry. She has also served as Visiting Professor at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados, and for the Drew Low-Residency MFA Program, Catskill Poetry Workshop, West Virginia Writers Workshop, Frost Place, Writers at the Beach, and Chautauqua Writer’s Center.
While at Bucknell, she launched the Poetry Path to make contemporary poetry a part of everyday life; poems and audio clips by living poets are incorporated along the Path that leads through Bucknell's campus and the historic Lewisburg town.
The 2012 US Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, selected McCallum for a 2013 Witter Bynner Fellowship for $10,000. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "These fellowships—to poets whose distinctive talents and craftsmanship merit wider recognition—provide a wonderful way for the Laureate, the Library and the Witter Bynner Foundation to encourage poets and poetry."
“Bucknell University Professor and Poet Recognized by Library of Congress: Bucknell University Professor of English Shara McCallum will help kick-off National Poetry Month with a reading of her work at the Library of Congress.” PRWeb. 28 March 2013. 12 July 2013. <http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/3/prweb10575904.htm>.
La Maire, Jordan. “Shara McCallum.” City State Arts: The Arts & Entertainment Magazine Serving the State College Environs & the Penn State Community. 11 February 2013. 11 July 2013. <http://www.citystatearts.com/shara-mccallum/>. Web address inactive.