Lucia Perillo, an award-winning author and Pulitzer Prize finalist, has died at the age of 58.
The publishing company Copper Canyon Press announced Perillo’s death as Oct. 16 in Olympia. The cause of her death was not immediately known, but the poet was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1988.
The MacArthur Genius Fellow published her first book in 1989, titled “Dangerous Life.” Perillo also wrote several collections of poetry, including “Inseminating the Elephant” in 2009, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress. It was a Washington State Book Award winner.
The Pulitzer board described it as “a collection of poems, often laced with humor, that examine popular culture, the limits of the human body and the tragicomic aspects of everyday experience.”
Perillo reflected on the announcement and nomination in an email to The Olympian at the time.
“Being a poet is like being a snowman in a snow globe. Most of the time you’re put away in an attic. But then you win these awards, and it’s as though you’ve been put out with the Christmas tree and someone has come along and shaken,” she wrote.
“I like living here. This is my favorite place. I think the best thing about winning the MacArthur, to me, is I can come back to Olympia all the time,” she told The Olympian.
Perillo began writing poetry when she worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Palo Alto, California.
While pursuing her master’s in English at Syracuse University, Perillo worked as a park ranger at Mount Rainier, which first drew her to this area.
She went on to teach and run the writing center at Saint Martin’s College in the 1980s and 1990s.
She taught at Syracuse University, Warren Wilson College and Southern Illinois University before returning to Olympia about 16 years ago.
The “Walking on Land by Water” artwork and haiku-style poetry on West Bay Drive in Olympia was the work of Perillo, who lived just up the hill, and artist Carolyn Law. It was dedicated in 2015.