Youngstown Native Ross Gay Wins National Poetry Award

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Poet Ross Gay, a Youngstown native, has won the 2021 Jean Stein Book Award for his latest release, “Be Holding: A Poem.”

Released in September, “Be Holding: A Poem” is centered on basketball legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving. More than just a story of Erving, the book connects the theme of imagination to the Igbo people of western Africa, the slave trade’s Middle Passage, photography, pick-up basketball, music, state violence and familial love. 

“I think this book is so much not only this desire but this practice,” Gay said in an acceptance speech. “The practice being understanding that we are made of each other.”

Gay is a professor at Indiana University and returned to Youngstown as part of North East Ohio Master of Fine Arts, a graduate-level creative writing program at Youngstown State University, University of Akron, Cleveland State University and Kent State University.

In October, he will be the keynote speaker at Lit Youngstown’s Fall Literary Festival. The reading, held Oct. 8 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, will be free and open to the public.

The Jean Stein Book Award, presented by Pen America, was founded in 2016 to recognize book-length works for “originality, merit and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.” The judges for this year’s honor were Tommy Orange, Fred Moten and Vievee Francic. It comes with a $75,000 prize.

Gay previously won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.