Rutgers Names Jayne Anne Phillips Board of Governors Professor

Jayne Anne Phillips, Department of English and MFA in Creative Writing, Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N), has been named to the highest academic rank at Rutgers: Board of Governors Professor. The board made the announcement at its October 14 meeting. Phillips, the director of Rutgers University-Newark’s MFA Creative Writing Program, is an internationally renowned novelist and short-story writer.

In its resolution honoring her, the board noted that Phillips “has been acclaimed in the documented testimonies of nationally distinguished literary critics and writers for her luminous and critically acclaimed short stories and novels that have established her as one of the major voices of her generation in American literature.”

“I'm truly honored, on behalf of myself and the RU-N MFA Program, to be named a Board Of Governors Professor. The accomplishments of MFA faculty and students; the Writers At Newark Reading Series; our Creative Writing Minor courses based on Series' authors books; our thriving High School Outreach and annual Newark High Schools Writing Contest; our Chancellor's MFA Mentors, who teach W@N Reading Series authors’ works on site in local classrooms, combine to support literature and writing as a basis for dialogue,” Phillips said. “Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s evocation of ‘neighbor’ not as a geographic term but as a ‘moral construct’—an idea articulated originally by Newark Rabbi Joachim Prinz—is a reality built into the design of the program, and I so deeply appreciate Rutgers’ acknowledgment and support.”

A native of West Virginia, Phillips earned her B.A. at West Virginia University and her M.F.A. at the University of Iowa. Even before she had completed her M.F.A., Phillips had published her first short-story collection, Sweethearts, which earned a Pushcart Prize and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines Fels Award .

Two years later, in 1978, her second collection, Counting, won the St. Lawrence Award. That was followed the next year by her breakthrough commercial success, Black Tickets (1979), a collection of short stories that won the prestigious Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, awarded by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Four more works quickly followed: the short-story collections, How Mickey Made It (1981), The Secret Country (1982) and Fast Lanes (1984), and then her first novel, Machine Dreams (1984). A New York Times best-seller, Machine Dreams was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of 12 Best Books of the Year.

Her next novel, Shelter (1994), was awarded an Academy Award in Literature by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and chosen one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Phillips has published three additional novels since: MotherKind, (2000), which won the Massachusetts Book Award and was short-listed for the prestigious Orange Prize (UK); Lark And Termite, (2008), a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, and winner of the Heartland Prize; and Quiet Dell, (2013), which received rave reviews.

Phillips calls herself a "family chronicler" who explores the tensions inherent in those relationships; love and loss are recurrent themes. The New York Review of Books has described her characters as "more or less ordinary people, in families, who are trying to love each other across a gap." Phillips has also drawn praise for her depictions of characters struggling to survive outside the mainstream, people who lead an ordinary existence yet are kept from their dreams by the circumstances of their lives.

Phillips joined the faculty of Rutgers University–Newark in 2005, as the founding director of the MFA in Creative Writing. She had previously served as a writer in residence at Brandeis University for a decade and taught as an adjunct instructor at a number of universities as well as in multiple prestigious workshops and conferences. In the decade that she has been at Rutgers, she has assembled a stellar faculty and recruited class after class of extremely talented and diverse young writers, a number of whom are now making their mark on the literary world. During its inaugural year, The Atlantic magazine named the RU-N MFA program to its list of "Five Up-and-Coming" creative writing programs in the United States.

FASN Dean Jan Ellen Lewis says that Phillips is widely recognized as one of the most important writers of her generation.

“From the publication of her stunning first book of short stories, Black Tickets, at the age of 26, through that of her most recent, widely acclaimed novel, Quiet Dell, we can trace her development into a novelist of exceptional maturity and depth who has never lost the ability to write in a poetic language that is as revelatory and fresh today as it was when she first emerged on the literary scene,” says Lewis.

“All of Phillips’ books have been translated into multiple foreign languages,” she added, “and each of the novels has received significant recognition in the form of prominent reviews, book awards and nominations, and best-books-of-the year lists. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she has held all the important fellowships and residencies—NEA, Guggenheim, Radcliffe Institute, Yaddo, MacDowell, Bellagio, some of them multiple times.”