The Pulitzer Prize committee cited Creech's book as "a book of masterly poems that capture the inner experience of a man in mid-life who is troubled by mortality and the passage of time, traditional themes that are made to feel new."
Creech, an assistant professor of English and writer-in-residence at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina, said he "was shocked."
"I had no idea I was a finalist…I got a text from my oldest daughter, Hattie, congratulating me, but I wasn't sure what she was congratulating me about until my publisher called during class to tell me. I just couldn't believe it," he said.
"The MFA program at McNeese really nourished my creativity--I wouldn't have written any of these poems, or known what I was doing formally, without the enormous influence, instruction and encouragement of MFA program founder John Wood, who was the best teacher I've ever had," said Creech.
He also said his friendship with award-winning poet Kevin Meaux, also a McNeese graduate of the program and "my best critic," was a result of Wood's workshop.
Creech has won a number of awards for his poetry, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Modern Poetry Foundation.
"We are delighted and proud about Morri's accomplishment," said MFA director Amy Fleury. " 'The Sleep of Reason' is Morri's third book and it's a profound and elegant collection of poetry. Morri was a student here in our program from 1995-98 and he later taught here for many years."
Fleury, another McNeese MFA alumnus, said she was in the program at the same time as Creech and it was "evident right away that he was a very gifted poet and good-hearted guy."
"While a student here under John Wood, he won the prestigious Ruth Lilly Fellowship and published widely. He and 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winner, Adam Johnson, were in the McNeese MFA program at the same time. The camaraderie of the graduate students in the program is a great catalyst for creative development," said Fleury.
"Our students and alums continue to shine by making great stories, novels and poems. We are grateful for the amazing legacy that they are contributing to American literature," she added.
The McNeese MFA program - established in 1981 - is ranked No. 22 in the nation by Poets & Writers magazine.