This was the second time Szybist, an assistant professor at Lewis and Clark College, had applied for the fellowship, which supports the creation of new work in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.
Szybist will use her fellowship to finish her second book of poetry tentatively titled Incarnadine. Poems in this collection investigate the idea of "incarnation" in its many forms. For some of the work, she is finding inspiration in painters like Fra Angelico, who painted scenes of the Annunciation. The money from the grant pays for expenses like research and travel, including a trip to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
To be eligible for an NEA fellowship, applicants must have published a book of poetry or have other publishing credits. Details on eligibility, deadlines, and application guidelines can be found at the National Endowment for the Arts website.
Does Szybist have any advice for others applying for the NEA fellowship? "You cannot start this application the night before because the NEA application is very labor-intensive," she said. Also, because the application must be submitted electronically, she recommends getting technical help, which she received from a colleague, as you prepare your submission.
Did Szybist do anything differently on her second time through the application process? The application only asks for a 2-3 sentence description of your proposed project and Szybist said she honed those few sentences until her description was straightforward, distinctive, and detailed. She said she wanted to make clear what her project was and explain in fresh language what set her work apart.
I wondered how Szybist felt about having to describe the idea behind her poetry. Does she feel that detracts from her work? "I have a love/hate relationship with being forced to articulate what I'm doing," she said. "Poems have to have space to take on lives of their own. The danger of articulating is that it can lead to being over-determined and take the life out of the work."
"As loathe as I am to admit it, this can also be helpful. There can be something very generative about being forced to articulate a theme or an idea," she said. For example, having to put the idea into words can encourage a poet to decide on a theme to place at the center of a collection of poetry, a creative decision that can actually benefit the work. "You're being asked for your framework and that's fair," she said.
Szybist's first book of poetry, Granted, was a finalist for the National Book Circle Critic's Award in Poetry in 2003. In 2009, also was selected for the Witter Bynner Fellowship in Poetry from the Library of Congress. To hear Szybist read her poems, go to the Lewis and Clark College website.
Gigi Rosenberg's essays and how-to articles have appeared in the Seal Press anthology The Maternal is Political, Parenting, Writer's Digest, The Writer and on Oregon Public Radio. She receives rave reviews for the grant writing workshops she leads at NYC's Foundation Center and Chicago's Self Employment in the Arts. She has performed her monologues throughout the Pacific Northwest and now coaches writers how to give stellar public readings and write winning grant applications.