Benjamin Grossberg and Javon Jackson Receive Humphrey R. Tonkin Award for Scholarly and/or Artistic Creativity

May 03, 2021
Submitted By: Office of Marketing and Communication
Benjamin S. Grossberg, professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Javon Jackson, professor and director of jazz studies in The Hartt School, are 2021 recipients of the Humphrey R. Tonkin Award for Scholarly and/or Artistic Creativity.

The award is presented to faculty members who have displayed unusual creativity and innovation in the pursuit of their scholarship.



Benjamin Grossberg is a poet of national standing. He has authored four full-length books of poetry, two chapbooks, an edited collection, and numerous peer-reviewed articles and essays. The extraordinary quantity of his publications is exceeded only by the quality and reception of his work. Grossberg's poems have won prestigious prizes and have been reprinted in numerous collections, including Best American Poetry.  

He has published more than 200 poems in some of the world's most prestigious journals and anthologies over his career. In his 12 years at the University, top presses have published four books of his poetry, two chapbooks, and an edited collection of poetry by others. He has had his poems published on Poetry Daily or Verse Daily 16 times, has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes on eight occasions, and won a Pushcart Prize in 2005 for "Beetle Orgy." 

There is ample evidence that Grossberg's work is meaningful and lasting. In 2010, he won the Tampa Review Prize and the prestigious Lambda Literary Award for his second book, Sweet Core Orchard. In 2011, a poem to be published in Space Traveler appeared in the annual Best American Poetry anthology. As its title indicates, this anthology is a monument to the best work published in a given year, and Grossberg's contribution to the volume appears alongside work by poets like Robert Haas, Robert Pinsky, Billy Collins, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, Richard Wilbur, and Natasha Trethewey (all of whom have been poet laureate of the United States). 

As English instructor Leslie Johnson wrote in nominating Grossberg for the Tonkin Award, the University is fortunate "to have one of the most highly regarded and prestigiously published poets in contemporary American letters on our very own campus."





Javon Jackson’s career as a gifted jazz tenor saxophonist, bandleader, composer, and educator spans decades. He came into international prominence as a member of the legendary Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, where he was a staple until Blakey’s death in 1990. 

A force in the jazz world, Jackson has released 21 recordings as a bandleader and toured and recorded over 150 CDs with such jazz greats as Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Haden, Betty Carter, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Stanley Turrentine, and Ben E. King. 

His latest work, Déjà Vu, was released in 2020 to critical acclaim, spending five weeks in the top 10 on the jazz charts, climbing to No. 2. In reviews, Jazz Time lauds Jackson as a “polished and intuitive improviser, and Downbeat magazine praises Jackson’s “canonical knowledge and interpretive command.”  

As a guest artist and lecturer at schools, festivals, camps, and academies throughout the world, Jackson is a tireless jazz ambassador. His television and film credits include Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, and The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on PBS. 
As director, Jackson’s efforts have expanded the University’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz in quality and scope, bringing increased enrollment, awareness, and respect. Through his professional associations, he has brought some of the world’s most esteemed musicians and scholars to campus, including Sonny Rollins, Cornell West, Angela Davis, and Nikki Giovanni.  

Jackson “represents the best of the University’s collective mission,” David Goldenberg, dean of Hillyer College, wrote in nominating him for the Tonkin Award. Stephen Pier, artistic director of dance at The Hartt School, concurs: “A consummate professional, an outstanding artist/educator, a transformative leader, and an actively engaged citizen, his work and his example enrich the lives of students, colleagues, and the entire University of Hartford.”