November 15, 2007

Creative writing graduates earn recognition

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Two graduates of the creative writing program in the English department at Southern Illinois University Carbondale recently gave the College of Liberal Arts cause to celebrate.

Paul Guest, a 1999 MFA-creative writing graduate, is one of 10 Whiting Foundation Fellowship winners for 2007. The $50,000 annual awards go to "emerging writers of exceptional talent and promise," according to the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. There was a ceremony to announce the recipients last month at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

Guest has two poetry collections, "The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World," and "Notes for My Body Double," which won the 2006 Prairie Schooner Prize. His first book won the 2002 New Issues Prize in Poetry. He also has two chapbooks, "Exit Interview," and "My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge." His work appears in such journals and publications as "Poetry," "Verse" and "The Southern Review." He is a visiting professor of English at the University of West Georgia.

Whiting Writers' Awards winners must be nominated by designated nominators, whose "experience and vocations give them knowledge about individuals of extraordinary talent," according to the foundation. The selection committee and the nominators are anonymous. The committee meets several times during a year to recommend the very best poets, playwrights and writers of both fiction and non-fiction. The ultimate selection comes from the foundation's trustees.

Benjamin Percy, who earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing in 2004, is a featured subject in the November-December issue of "Poets and Writers," a 70,000 circulation, national bi-monthly trade journal for creative writers. "It's quite an honor to be featured in this magazine, particularly for a writer as young as Ben," Allison Joseph, director of the English MFA program, said.

Magazine Editor Mary Gannon quoted Percy in her "Editor's Notes" for the issue, which is the publication's "annual MFA issue." Percy's advice, as given in Gannon's quote, is that an advanced degree, such as he earned at SIUC, is important – but so is perseverance and the courage to face rejection.

Percy is the author of two short story collections, "The Language of Elk," and "Refresh, Refresh." He is a past winner of the Plimpton Prize, a $10,000 award given by the publishers of "The Paris Review," and he is a 2007 Pushcart Prize Fellowship winner, among other awards. His work appears in such anthologies as "Best American Short Stories" and in publications including "Esquire," "Glimmer Train," and "Greensboro Review." He is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.