Mary Jo Salter, Honorary Degree Recipient

Mary Jo Salter.

Doctor of Letters

Mary Jo Salter is a renowned poet, as well as a playwright, lyricist, essayist and reviewer, and the current Director of Graduate Studies in the Writing Seminars program at Johns Hopkins University. She studied at Harvard with poet Elizabeth Bishop, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1976 and going on to receive a master’s degree from Cambridge in 1978. From 1984 to 2007, she taught at Mount Holyoke College, becoming the Emily Dickinson Senior Lecturer in the Humanities.

While there, Salter published her first two volumes of poetry, Henry Purcell in Japan and Unfinished Painting, the latter garnering her the 1989 Lamont Poetry Prize. The New York Times declared her collection Open Shutters a “notable book of the year” for 2003. Her other works include Sunday Skaters, A Kiss in Space, A Phone Call to the Future, the children’s book The Moon Comes Home and the play Falling Bodies, first performed at Mount Holyoke in 2004. Her song cycle “Rooms of Light,” with music by Fred Hersch, premiered at Lincoln Center in 2007, as did “The Drift of Melancholy,” a setting of three Salter poems for soprano and chamber orchestra by Snorri Sigfus Birgisson. Poet Carolyn Kizer has praised Salter for “poems of breathtaking elegance: in formal control, in intellectual subtlety, in learning lightly displayed.”

Salter has served as an editor for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and the fourth and fifth editions of The Norton Anthology of Poetry, published in 1996 and 2005. She has written for The New York Times Book Review and The Yale Review. She was vice president of the Poetry Society of America from 1995 to 2007.