Andrew Leon Hudgins Jr. (1951- ) is a critically acclaimed poet whose work is permeated with the images, diction, and motifs of the South in general and especially Alabama, where he lived during his high school and college years. He has published seven books of poetry and one book of essays, and his work continues to appear in journals and anthologies. Currently, he is Humanities Distinguished Professor in English at the Ohio State University.
Andrew Hudgins Andrew Hudgins was born the youngest of four brothers on April 22, 1951, in Killeen, Texas, to Andrew and Roberta Roberts Hudgins. During his father’s Air Force career, the family lived in many places, but in 1965 his father was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base, and they moved to Montgomery, Montgomery County. Hudgins came to characterize Montgomery as his hometown. He graduated from Sidney Lanier High School and then attended Huntingdon College, where he earned degrees in history and English as well as a teaching certificate. While at Huntingdon, Hudgins studied under Helen Norris, a former Poet Laureate of Alabama, and decided to become a poet. He graduated in 1974 and married Olivia Hardy, a classmate at Huntingdon, shortly thereafter.
After a year spent teaching sixth grade at Carver Elementary School in Montgomery, Hudgins attended the University of Alabama, receiving a master’s degree in English in 1976. He continued his studies at Syracuse University before moving back to Alabama for three years and teaching part-time at Auburn University at Montgomery. Hudgins and Hardy divorced in 1981, and Hudgins left Alabama to attend the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa, from which he received a master of fine arts in 1983. Hudgins served as a lecturer at Baylor University from 1984 to 1985 before becoming a faculty member of the University of Cincinnati in 1985. He joined the faculty of the Ohio State University and married fiction writer Erin McGraw in 1992.
Hudgins’s first book, Saints and Strangers, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1985 while he was teaching at the University of Cincinnati, and the work was a finalist for that year’s Pulitzer Prize. The text sets forth the religious tension that has come to characterize Hudgins’s work, and it contains several poems that deal with Alabama, including “Julia Tutwiler State Prison for Women” and “Zelda Sayre in Montgomery: 1942″ His next book, After the Lost War: A Narrative (1988), explores the South in the years after the Civil War entirely through poet Sidney Lanier’s voice, following the Confederate soldier and poet from the first years of the war to his death. It won the 1989 Poets’ Prize.
The Never-Ending: New Poems (1991), a finalist for the National Book Award, considers gardens, Christology, and Hudgins’s own life. This autobiographical thread continues into The Glass Hammer: A Southern Childhood (1994), which Hudgins vowed to write while he was “still angry” about the injustices he faced as a child at the hands of his parents, his father in particular. The Glass Anvil (1997), an autobiographical prose companion to The Glass Hammer, includes examples of Hudgins’s critical work along with personal essays, an interview with poet Nick Norwood, and Hudgins’s thoughts on autobiography in general and The Glass Hammer in particular. Hudgins has described his view of Alabama as “terribly mixed.” He considers Alabama his home and is defensive of the state, but he also finds himself appalled by the corruption, lack of forward movement, and faith-based politics characteristic of the state. These views manifest in his poetry, especially in After the Lost War, in which Hudgins approaches Lanier and the South with equal parts respect and bewilderment.
Hudgins’s later works have moved away from more overtly southern themes and evolve from his former narrative style to a more formal and lyric quality. Although Babylon in a Jar (1998) was less favorably received in reviewer’s circles, later works Ecstatic in the Poison (2003) and Shut Up, You’re Fine: Poems for Very, Very Bad Children (2009) were viewed more positively. His 2010 work American Rendering: New and Selected Poems treats the subject of religion with dark humor, and he continues this theme in his poems exploring the pleasures and fears that humor can bring in 2013’s A Clown at Midnight. Hudgins has also published several nonfiction works in recent years, including The Joker: A Memoir, in which he explores his intellectual development through his lifelong compulsion to tell jokes.
Works by Andrew Hudgins
Saints and Strangers (1985)
After the Lost War: A Narrative (1988)
The Never-Ending: New Poems (1991)
The Glass Hammer: A Southern Childhood (1994)
Glass Anvil: Poets on Poetry (1997)
Babylon in a Jar: New Poems (1998)
Ecstatic in the Poison (2003)
Shut Up, You’re Fine: Poems for Very, Very Bad Children (2009)
American Rendering: New and Selected Poems (2010)
Diary of a Poem (2011)
A Clown at Midnight (2013)
The Joker: A Memoir (2013)
Murphy, Jim. “Laughing through Babylon: A Few Thoughts on the Poetry of Andrew Hudgins.” First Draft: The Journal of the Alabama Writers’ Forum 11 (Spring 2005) 17-19.