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NMSU English professor finalist for national book award

"Milk and Filth," a poetry collection by New Mexico State University professor Carmen Gimenez Smith, has been named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, considered among the most prestigious writing awards in the country. Winners are selected by a jury of working critics and book-review editors.

Head and shoulders image of woman
Carmen Gimenez Smith, NMSU associate professor of English, is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for her poetry collection "Milk and Filth." (Courtesy photo)
Two women head and shoulders
Carmen Gimenez Smith, NMSU Associate Professor of English poses for photo with her mother Yolanda Rosello in Anaheim, California last summer. Gimenez Smith, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, is writing her next book about her mother. (Courtesy photo)

Gimenez Smith, an associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, is among writers such as Frank Bidart, Lucie Brock-Broido, Denise Duhamel and Bob Hicok in contention for the award in the poetry category. Awards in six categories will be presented on March 13 at a ceremony at the New School in New York City.

"The National Book Critics Circle Award is an enormous honor, the other finalists are writers that I greatly admire," Gimenez Smith said.

"The book is deeply inspired by the feminist artists of the 1970s. I imagine my book as a revisitation of second wave feminism, as well as an homage to the vision of those essential feminist artists and poets, people like Ana Mendieta and Adrienne Rich, who helped to shape and radicalize my own feminism."

Critics have called Gimenez Smith's poetry collection unflinching with a sense of irony and comedy.

"I try to be brave in my writing and try to do things that feel uncomfortable or scary because I think those things are true and important to access, to mine as an artist," said Gimenez Smith. "If it feels unflinching it's because I am very mercenary with my own relationship with the subject matter."

Gimenez Smith has earned other awards for her poetry and nonfiction works. In 2011, she received an American Book Award for her memoir, "Bring Down the Little Birds," an exploration of the many faces of motherhood from her own experience as a mother and memories of her own mother, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and Alzheimer's disease.

Gimenez Smith is currently working on her next book, which will focus on her mother.

"My mother is one of the funniest people I have ever met and she's a very strong person, an amazing person and she was such an amazing role model for me," she said. "The book is also an homage to her."

The title "Milk and Filth" is derived from part of a last line in one of the poems in Gimenez Smith's collection. She says a friend observed that the line spoke well to the general themes of the book.

"I hope that people think about the second wave and think about feminism and celebrate feminism," she said. "I'm puzzled by people who find feminism distasteful because it's a civil rights movement. I'm hoping it can be seen that way."

Gimenez Smith is the editor-in-chief of NMSU's literary journal Puerto del Sol and a publisher of Noemi Press, which publishes poetry and fiction. She is the author of other poetry collections: "Odalisque in Pieces," The City She Was," and "Goodbye, Flicker."

She received her bachelor's degree in English from San Jose State University and her master's degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa.