Gustavus comes together in celebration of the achievements of once student and now faculty member, Matt Rasmussen ‘98.
English Professor Rasmussen’s book, Black Aperture, was announced as part of the National Book Award Longlist on Tuesday, Sept. 17.
The National Book Award was established in 1950 and quickly gained a reputation for recognizing literary excellence, acknowledging the work of writers such as William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Wallace Stevens, Rachel Carson, Ralph Ellison, W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, and Bernard Malamu.
The mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Award is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.
The book is Rasmussen’s first and consists of a collection of poems published by Louisiana State University (LSU) Press in May.
“It’s a pretty large honor to have your book considered for such a major award. The fact that this is my first book makes it even more surprising,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen notes that his inspiration to write poetry came from his time as a student at Gustavus.
“I was inspired by poets like Joyce Sutphen and Phil Bryant who were my professors when I attended Gustavus. They are both incredible poets, and their poetry and classes moved me so much, I wanted to be just like them,” Rasmussen said.
Sutphen was Rasmussen’s advisor during his time as an undergrad. The very professors that inspired Rasmussen’s work are now fans of his poetry.
“Being nominated for a National Book Award is an amazing honor for a first book, but Black Aperture is amazing,” Minnesota Poet Laurete and English Professor Joyce Sutphen said.
The topic of the book is particularly personal to Rasmussen since it focuses on his brother’s suicide when Rasmussen was 16.
“My book explores this tragic event from different angles, never necessarily retelling the event as it happened, nor searching for reasons why it happened, but rather examining my own grief through poetry,” Rasmussen said.
Senior Rebecca Thompson is thankful to have the experience of learning from such a renowned poet, who has made her feel comfortable in an unfamiliar area.
“He’s a fun professor, very engaged, and always shows that he appreciates our ideas,” Thompson said.
After receiving the honor, Rasmussen admits that he was shocked and grateful to be considered.
“I found out Tuesday morning while I was dropping my daughter off at her first day of pre-school. I was pretty surprised, obviously. Being on the longlist for the National Book Award is truly an honor and I’m extremely humbled to see my book named amongst so many incredible poets and amazing books,” Rasmussen said.
Thompson also recognized his excitement at receiving such an honor during class.
“When he found out he was longlisted for the award, he was clearly very excited and humbled and admitted to the class that his brain was jumbled from the excitement,” Thompson said.