The University of Iowa

James Tate, Pulitzer-Winning Poet, Dies at 71

James Tate, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, longtime English professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, has died. He was 71.

Tate was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for “Selected Poems,” culled from nine volumes of his poetry, from “The Lost Pilot” through “Reckoner” (1986). The collection “Worshipful Company of Fletchers” won the National Book Award in 1994. He was then the recipient of the Wallace Stevens Award by the Academy of American Poet in 1995.

His first collection “The Lost Pilot” was selected for publication in the Yale Series of Younger Poets while he was still a graduate student at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

His other poetry collections include “Hints to Pilgrims” (1971), “Absences” (1972), “Viper Jazz” (1976), “Riven Doggeries” (1979), “Constant Defender” (1983) and “Return to the City of White Donkeys” (2004). His work has been described as " “often hilarious without losing the nervous edginess that makes it such a profoundly unsettling experience.”

A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Tate attended Kansas State College of Pittsburg. While in school, he began writing poems in his dormitory room: “The thing that was magic about it was that once you put down one word, you could cross it out,” he told the poet Charles Simic in an interview for The Paris Review in 2006. “I figured that out right away. I put down ’mountain,’ and then I’d go, no — ‘valley.’ That’s better.”

After graduating, he drove to Iowa City and found a way to show several poems to Donald Justice -- Tate was accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop on the spot.

The poet Charles Simic, also a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, described Mr. Tate as “one of our great comic masters.”