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News Release: Poet John Caddy receives 2012 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award

May 16, 2012 - Well known as a poet and a teacher, Caddy has published several celebrated volumes of poetry in a career spanning almost 50 years.

The McKnight Foundation has named Minnesota poet John Caddy as the 2012 McKnight Distinguished Artist, in recognition of artistic excellence spanning nearly five decades. Now in its 15th year, the annual honor includes a $50,000 cash award and recognizes individual Minnesota artists who have made significant contributions to the quality of the state's cultural life.

Well known as a poet and a teacher, Caddy has published several celebrated volumes of poetry. In a career spanning almost 50 years, Caddy has read his poetry across the U.S. and extensively in Cornwall, Britain, where his ancestors worked in the mines. His poetry books include Eating the Sting (1986), The Color of Mesabi Bones (1989), a chapbook, Presences the Blood Learns Again (1997), Morning Earth: Field Notes in Poetry (2003), and With Mouths Open Wide: New & Selected Poems (2008).

"John Caddy models a life of devotion to craft, to humanity, and to our natural world," said McKnight's president Kate Wolford. "Minnesotan to the core, he is at once an outstanding artist and an inspiring environmentalist, an exceptional representative of our state's arts community. I am delighted to honor John Caddy as the 2012 McKnight Distinguished Artist."

Caddy's career as a poet and teacher reflects his upbringing on northern Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range and his deep appreciation for nature. Each weekday for the past several years, Caddy has combined one of his nature photos with a new poem celebrating gifts received from Earth. As a feature of his nonprofit Morning Earth program he emails this daily poem and photo to 1,500 subscribers on five continents; many are classroom teachers. The daily poems are also posted at and on Facebook.

In the mid-1960s, Caddy began teaching as an Instructor in the University of Minnesota's College of Education, where he trained teachers and taught English at the former University High lab school. While there, he became one of the founding poets of the Minnesota Poets in the Schools Program, which eventually became Community Programs in the Arts & Sciences, or COMPAS.

From the late 1960s through the late 1990s, Caddy taught over 750 poetry residencies in Minnesota's schools, partnering to compose poetry with more than 75,000 kids and over a thousand teachers. COMPAS named him the Dean of Minnesota residency artists. Caddy recently retired from Hamline University's Center for Global Environmental Education, where he taught graduate students how to teach environmental education using the arts.

In the 1970s, Caddy co-founded Sundog Center, a residential center for environmental education near Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota. Caddy infuses his environmental teaching with poetry and other art forms, and in the mid-1990s, he began his Self-Expressing Earth (SEE) program at Hamline University's Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE). For years, SEE offered summer workshops to instruct and inspire teaching artists, interpretive naturalists, and classroom teachers. The week-long workshops were taught in camp settings throughout Minnesota, and offered deep experiential immersions in both making art and nature. Over time, the SEE program matured into the nonprofit organization Morning Earth. In Caddy's words, the Morning Earth website and programs provide "an antidote to ecological despair, a resource toward ecoliteracy for teachers and students of all ages, and for everyone interested in the confluence of ecology and the arts." In its first several years, the website has attracted more than a million visitors.

Caddy describes himself as "an aging poet whose spirit is more lively all the time." In 1994 Caddy survived a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body. Following the stroke, Caddy wrote that he was elated to find himself "alive, somewhat sensible, and still capable of making poems... After stroke therapy, I decided to spend the rest of my allotted time writing and sharing poems of celebration and helping people recover their intuitive connections with Earth."

For his decades of contributions as a teacher, in 1997 Caddy received the Sally Ordway Irving Award for Arts Education. He has also received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Minnesota Book Award for his book, The Color of Mesabi Bones, published in 1989 by Milkweed Editions. "John Caddy is a national treasure," explained Milkweed publisher Daniel Slager. "To my mind his most lasting contribution may lie in the way his work expands ecological consciousness, illuminating with affection and reverence the infinite ways we human beings are part of the community of life on Earth."

Caddy has also been honored with the Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship, Minnesota State Arts Board Grants, a McKnight Artist Fellowship, and a Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. In 2002 Caddy was made a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth in Cornwall, Britain. In 2011, he was named a Fellow of Black Earth Institute, a think tank dedicated to rebuilding links between art, spirit, earth, and society. He is a professional member of the PEN American Center.

Caddy lives outside Forest Lake, Minnesota, on 10 acres of woods, marsh, and ponds, with "three excellent cats."

The McKnight Distinguished Artist Award recognizes individuals who help lay the foundation for Minnesota's rich cultural life. Despite opportunities to pursue work elsewhere, they chose to stay — and by staying, they have made a difference. Previous recipients are composer Dominick Argento (1998), ceramic artist Warren MacKenzie (1999), writer Robert Bly (2000), choral conductor Dale Warland (2001), publisher Emilie Buchwald (2002), painter Mike Lynch (2003), orchestra conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (2004), sculptor Judy Onofrio (2005), theater artist Lou Bellamy (2006), sculptor Kinji Akagawa (2007), writer Bill Holm (2008), theater artist Bain Boehlke (2009), sculptor Siah Armajani (2010), and dance artist Ranee Ramaswamy (2011). The McKnight Foundation will honor Caddy at a private reception later this year.

The McKnight Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations through grantmaking, collaboration, and encouragement of strategic policy reform. Founded in 1953 and independently endowed by William and Maude McKnight, the Minnesota-based Foundation had assets of approximately $1.9 billion and granted about $91 million in 2011.