Professor receives Chicago Public Library Award


Santiago Covarrubias

Eric May, an associate professor in the Creative Writing Department, was awarded the Chicago Public Library and Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award.

By Campus Reporter

Eric May, an associate professor in the Creative Writing Department, received the 21st Century Award, presented by the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Public Library Foundation. May received his award Oct. 21 at the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards dinner.

Rhona Frazin, president and CEO of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, said the awards were created in 2000 as an effort by the Chicago Public Library and its foundation to honor significant recent achievement in writing by less-published authors who have ties to Chicago.

“The award is presented to encourage the creation of new works and to build public awareness of the writer’s talents,” Frazin said.

Frazin said the library and the foundation look for unique talent and interesting perspectives, and May fit the criteria with “Bedrock Faith,” his first published novel.

Craig Davis, director of Cultural and Civic Engagement at the CPL, said the library is constantly seeking possible candidates and locally published work.

“In presenting the award, the library and the foundation hope to encourage the creation of new works by that author and increase public awareness of the writer’s talent,” Davis said.

May, a 1975 writing/English alumnus, said he began writing when he came to the college in 1971.

“Being at Columbia was a great thing for me because it was such a creative place,” May said. “To be dropped in this creative gumbo that was Columbia then and is Columbia now was really exciting. In every class I was in, I was in a class with creative people.”

May said “Bedrock Faith,” published in 2014, took him 10 years to finish and three years to sell.

“It was published about a month before my 61st birthday but no less sweeter for the wait,” May said. “I’m a good example of what happens if you just keep at it and keep going.”

May said critiquing one’s own work is part of being a writer, especially as writers grow and improve their work. He said his self-critiquing has become less frequent as he has gotten older and written more.

“It’s the nature of the beast to look at your writing later and think ‘I could have said that better’ or ‘This chapter could be a little tighter,’ because that’s just how your mind works,” May said. “On the other hand, there are times I will look at things I have written, and I am really proud of what I wrote.”

Tony Trigilio, interim chair of the Creative Writing Department, said May is focused on and dedicated to mentoring his students.

“He’s committed to making sure his art-making practice and his teaching practice are intertwined with each other, so students know they’re working with an active artist when they work with him,” Trigilio said. “I think that’s the sort of thing we all need to do at the college.”

Trigilio said he thinks “Bedrock Faith” is a great novel to learn from as a writer because it shows how structure, voice and language come together as a coherent whole.

He added that the award will build May’s readership and encourage students to get to know him as an author and a teacher.

“As a prospective student, you love the book, and then you [think], ‘I can study with this person; This is going to be great,’” Trigilio said. “I love the way it creates a natural bridge for [prospective] students to check out the college.”