Jim Daniels

Writer and Professor
Carnegie Mellon University
BA in English and Spanish
Class of 1978
Alma Mater:
Alma College

Independent Alum of the Day

Jim Daniels has published fourteen books of poetry. His most recent collection, Birth Marks, was published by BOA Editions in 2013 and was selected as a Michigan Notable Book, won the Milton Kessler Poetry Book Award, and received the Gold Medal in Poetry in the Independent Publishers Book Awards. His fifth book of short fiction, Eight Mile High, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2014.

His fourth collection, Trigger Man, was published in 2011 and won the Midwest Book Award for Short Fiction. In 2007, he was awarded the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize for his poetry collection Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies.  Two other books were published that year, Daniels' third collection of short fiction, Mr. Pleasant (Best Regional Fiction Gold Medal, Independent Publisher Book Awards) and his eleventh book of poems, In Line for the Exterminator (Paterson Award for Literary Excellence). In 2010, he wrote and produced the independent film "Mr. Pleasant,” his third produced screenplay. His second, "Dumpster,” was filmed in 2005.  Street, a book of his poems with photographs by Charlee Brodsky, won the Tillie Olsen Prize from the Working-Class Studies Association in 2006. In addition, he has edited or co-edited four anthologies, including Letters to America: Contemporary American Poetry on Race, and American Poetry: The Next Generation.  

Daniels' poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac," in Billy Collins' Poetry 180 anthologies, and Ted Kooser's "American Life in Poetry" series. His poem "Factory Love" is displayed on the roof of a race car.  He has received the Brittingham Prize for Poetry, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and two from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.  His poems have appeared in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies.

At Carnegie Mellon University, where he is the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor of English, Daniels has received the Ryan Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Elliott Dunlap Smith Award for Teaching and Educational Service, the Mark Gelfand Service Award for Educational Outreach, and a Faculty Service Award from the Alumni Association. Daniels received his BA from Alma College and his MFA from Bowling Green State University. A native of Detroit, Daniels lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, the writer Kristin Kovacic.

My motivation

Self-doubt. That may seem like a flippant answer, but it's the truth.

My latest accomplishments

At Carnegie Mellon, I was named a University Professor last spring. With my writing, I published a book of poems, Birth Marks, in Fall 2013 (BOA Editions) and a book of short stories, Eight Mile High, in Fall 2014 (Michigan State University Press).

Next big goal

Currently, I am working on another short film, "The End of Blessings," and I want to finish editing that by the end of 2014. I am also working on another collaborative project, "Trace," with the photographer Charlee Brodsky, and I want to finish that up sometime during the next year.

Why is choosing your own path important?

As a writer, I have to continue pushing myself into unfamiliar territory to challenge myself, to try new things, to take chances, to accept failure as part of the process.  As a teacher, I also have to continue to "make it new." Making it new requires choosing my own path, not following the safe, well-marked trails, created by others, and at this point in my career, by myself. So, it's not only chooing my own path, but choosing a path I haven't taken before. I can't let myself get too comfortable as a teacher or writer because that's when the paths become predictable and boring.

Favorite place on campus

The student union, where I spent a lot of time with my friends and drank a lot of coffee.

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