For the first time, a poet will receive the 2013 UW-Whitewater Chancellor's Regional Literary Award.
A public event, which will feature a reading and book signing, will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, in Summers Auditorium in the James R. Connor University Center.
"Alison is a skilled poet and her work is deeply moving," said Chancellor Richard Telfer. "She's known as an innovative and compassionate instructor in the classroom. I am pleased to name her this year's recipient."
"Winning the Chancellor's Regional Literary Award is affirmation of where I am in my career as a writer," Townsend said. "It's all the more special given my connection to UW-Whitewater and it provides energy and encouragement to continue writing."
"The Blue Dress" is a collection of poems and essays about personal loss and recovery following the death of Townsend's mother.
"I was 9 years old when my mother died. This was the 1960s and people dealt with children and death much differently than they do today," Townsend said. "This work is a breaking of the silence in some way -- meant to honor my mother and show compassion for my family."
"Persephone in America," also a collection of poems and prose, reintroduces the famous Greek myth from a modern perspective.
"It's a much more deliberate project about coming of age in the 1960s and '70s," Townsend said. "I was 'seeing' Persephone in all kinds of places and situations."
One of the book's poems, "The Favorite," was published in the 2009 Pushcart anthology, which honors the best work published in the nation's small presses.
"The evocative power of Alison's writing responds to the environment, but moves beyond what might be called regional writing," said Mary Pinkerton, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences. "It's great to be able to recognize one of our own. We are very fortunate to have someone of her caliber in the classroom and inspiring the next wave of young writers."
Townsend joined the UW-Whitewater faculty in 1997, and since then has taught a variety of courses, including advanced writer's studio; women's voices, women's lives; nature writing; and gender, ethnicity and the environment.
Creative nonfiction is her favorite course to teach.
"It's a capacious, exciting and flexible genre, and it's still evolving," Townsend said. "Students discover that the essay, far from being stuffy and antiquated, is an ideal medium for capturing individual human truths. The class always really bonds together, and it's often where students make the biggest leap in their writing."
Townsend is enthusiastic about cross-disciplinary teaching at UW-Whitewater. Her nature writing course is an approved elective for the new environmental science major. As someone whose parents taught her to value the natural world, Townsend says she's proud her course is part of the curriculum.
"It is critical for students to be able to write in compelling ways about the environment," she said. "Nature is so much a part of our lives and it requires our stewardship."
The Chancellor's Regional Literary Award honors a living author who has demonstrated a connection to the Upper Midwest in his or her published works of prose, poetry, nonfiction or drama.
2006 - C.J. Hribal for "The Company Car"
2007 - A. Manette Ansay for "Vinegar Hill," "Limbo" and "Blue Water"
2008 - Michael Perry for "Population 485" and "Truck: A Love Story"
Jane Hamilton for "A Map of the World" and "The Book of Ruth"
2009 - David Rhodes for "Driftless"
2010 - Agate Nesaule for "A Woman in Amber" and "In Love with Jerzy Kosinski"
2011 - Robert Goolrick for "A Reliable Wife"
2012 - John Hildebrand for "Mapping the Farm: The Chronicles of a Family" and "Reading the River: A Voyage Down the Yukon"
Photography by Craig Schreiner
Top - Alison Townsend stands next to a magnolia tree outside the Greenhill Center of the Arts on the UW-Whitewater campus.
Bottom - A poster of famed poet Emily Dickinson graces the wall of Alison Townsend's office in Laurentide Hall.