Patrick Phillips and Ross Gay have other things in common as well.

October 2015 – What are the odds of this? Two of the five finalists for the National Book Award in Poetry have ties to Drew University.

Patrick Phillips is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at the School of Liberal Arts, where he has worked since 2007. Ross Gay, meanwhile, taught in Drew’s Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry program—part of its Caspersen School of Graduate Studies—from its inception in 2009 until earlier this year. Gay also is a tenured professor at Indiana University.

“It’s an amazing honor,” Gay said of being a finalist. “They’re all really strong writers that I’m in company with. So, it’s just a beautiful, lucky, humbling experience.”

Phillips said he was “surprised and delighted” to make it this far, adding, “I feel incredibly grateful and incredibly lucky because the stars have to align the right way for these things to happen. And there are so many good books.”

Phillips is nominated for Elegy for a Broken Machine, a collection of poems that Knopf published in March. Gay’s nomination stems from Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, which also came out this year. The National Book Foundation, which administers the National Book Awards, will name a winner next month.

Drew and the finalist recognition aren’t the only things that the professors have in common. Each also has a PhD (Phillips’ is in Renaissance literature from New York University and Gay’s, in American literature from Temple University), has written three books and was a Guggenheim fellow (Phillips in 2010 and Gay in 2013).

The five finalists emerged from an initial pool of nominees that totaled 221 and a list of 10 contenders that the foundation identified in September. Judges in the poetry category include Sherman Alexie, Katha Pollitt and Tim Seibles.

The foundation will name winners in four categories—fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature—during a Nov. 18 ceremony and dinner in New York City. The prize for each? A bronze sculpture and $10,000. The recognition itself is priceless.