Prof. honored for literary work
Cullen Chair for UH’s Creative Writing Program and nationally recognized author Antonya Nelson was one of 50 American artists named a 2009 United States Artists Fellow in December.
She was honored for her literary works.
“I was stunned and deeply grateful to learn that I’d received an award. I feel lucky to have been selected,” Nelson said in an e-mail.
This isn’t the first time Nelson has won an award for her work in literature. Nelson has received awards for several short stories, including the 2001 O. Henry Award for “Female Trouble,” the 2003 Pushcart Prize for “The Lonely Doll,” the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Nelson Algren Award and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.
Nelson also achieved recognition for her 1996 novel Talking in Bed, which received the Heartland Award in fiction, and five of her novels have been named New York Times Notable books. Nelson’s also received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
“The University is proud to have an esteemed writer on faculty. She is a prolific author,” media relations representative Mike Emery said in an e-mail.
Director of Creative Writing James Kastely said that Nelson’s recent award will help support the growth of UH’s Creative Writing Program.
“Nelson’s award enhances the reputation of both the Creative Writing Program and the University of Houston. It is just one more reason for the best graduate students in the country to seek admission to UH. Our undergraduates are being taught by one of the best writing faculties in the country,” Kastely said in an e-mail.
To become a USA Fellow, an artist must be nominated. Artists who are nominated are then highly encouraged to apply online with a submission of their work to the USA Foundation.
“The work that I sent to the USA Foundation was a short story, Soldier’s Joy, and I explained in my application that I felt especially impassioned about being a practitioner of the short story,” Nelson said.
“I love to teach the short story as an art form. I love to read short stories. I love to write them. Perhaps my enthusiasm about the form itself had some sway with the judges,” Nelson said.
Artists who have been nominated must go through a peer review in which art experts examine the nominees’ applications. The selected finalists are invited to attend an awards celebration, which for 2009 was held December in Santa Monica, Calif.
“What impressed me the most was the extraordinary diversity of the artists on display, people whose work — whether music, buildings, dance or crafts — clearly manages to be excellent on its own as well as inspire others,” Nelson said. “The degree to which the work I saw (in a wonderfully staged multimedia presentation) was so eclectic (that it) was awesome.”
USA Fellows each receive a $50,000 unrestricted grant. Nelson said winning this award will help provide a financial cushion for her life as an artist.
“I plan to spend the money I received in the ways I always do, helping support the family who lives with me: my daughter, who is a painter; her fiancée, who is a poet; my son, who is a chemist and poet; my mother-in-law and my husband, who is also a writer. In this way, the USA foundation is supporting a whole colony of artists, which to me seems like an ideal situation,” Nelson said.
Kastely said the growing reputation of UH’s creative writing faculty sets a challenge for the University to support the Creative Writing Program as a nationally competitive program. This means increasing literary resources and adding more programs for young writers.
“This is a serious challenge, and it requires the University to ensure that the program has (the) resources that will allow it to achieve its potential and continue to be one of the premier programs in the country,” Kastely said.
Kastely also said he believes the presence of important writers who are also excellent teachers is one of the reasons the UH program is special and will continue to grow.
“It’s a reason to do graduate and undergraduate work in creative writing at UH. It’s one of the resources that enrich the larger intellectual and cultural life on campus. The University has an important obligation to ensure that this program thrives,” Kastely said.