Pioneering Poet

Acclaimed Artist Charles Bernstein to Give Reading, Receive Honorary Degree at Ohio Wesleyan

By Cole Hatcher

Charles Bernstein

DELAWARE, Ohio – Groundbreaking poet, editor, critic, and activist Charles Bernstein is the author or editor of nearly 100 books, including his latest, “Topsy-Turvy.”

“Not set out to be a book about the pandemic,” The Bookseller states in its review of the tome, “this rowdy collection of poems, performances, and translations nevertheless speaks volumes about the upside-down world we have all found ourselves living in.”

Bernstein will read from his works and sign books at 4:10 p.m. March 29 in the Bayley Room on the second floor of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Beeghly Library, 43 Rowland Ave., Delaware.

At the free public event, Bernstein also will be awarded an Ohio Wesleyan Honorary Doctor of Literature degree in recognition of his decades of contributions to his craft. An honorary degree is the highest award bestowed by the university.

Bernstein was nominated for the honorary degree by David Caplan, Ph.D., OWU professor of English, interim Department of English chair, and associate director of Creative Writing.

“Bernstein’s work is widely anthologized, analyzed, and discussed,” Caplan said in his nomination. “Throughout his career, he has promoted poetic innovation, the creation of new forms and kinds of poetry. In his own poetry, he blends humor, popular culture and literary references, and cultural critique. His poetry is funny, biting, and oddly generous. Instead of avoiding clichés, Bernstein appropriates them, enlivening seemingly worn-out language and showing how poetry can be found in the unlikeliest of places.”

Of Bernstein’s leadership, Caplan continued: “In addition to writing poetry and criticism, Bernstein has acted as a pioneering literary activist, creating new venues for poetry and means of distribution. As the director/founder of PennSound and the editor and founder of the Electronic Poetry Center, he seized the opportunities that emerging technologies offered, making poetry and criticism available online to be read and discussed.”

A retired English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Bernstein’s many honors include earning Yale University’s 2019 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry, the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2006, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Early in his career, Bernstein co-edited the magazine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, widely considered the beginning of avant-garde Language Poetry. Instead of emphasizing traditional poetic techniques, according to the Poetry Foundation, “Language poetry tends to draw the reader’s attention to the uses of language in a poem that contribute to the creation of meaning.”

The Foundation also describes his work as exploring “the wide-ranging uses of language within diverse social contexts. His poetry combines the language of politics, popular culture, advertising, literary jargon, corporate-speak, and myriad others to show how language and culture are mutually constructive and interdependent.”

Learn more about Bernstein at http://writing.upenn.edu/epc/authors/bernstein and more about the Ohio Department of English at owu.edu/english.


Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 70 undergraduate majors and competes in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through its signature program, The OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan teaches students to integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and global perspective, and apply knowledge in real-world settings. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and included on the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “Best Colleges” lists. Connect with OWU expert interview sources at owu.edu/experts or learn more at owu.edu.