December 12, 2014

Graduate earns prestigious poetry fellowship

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Staci Schoenfeld has won awards for her writing before, but this one may be a game-changer. 

Schoenfeld, a May 2014 graduate of the creative writing master of fine arts program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the recipient of a 2015 Fellowship in Literature in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. The fellowship, according to the NEA description, is a $25,000 award for published creative writers and poets intended to allow the recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel and general career advancement. Schoenfeld is one of 36 recipients from a nationwide pool of 1,634 applicants. 

Schoenfeld is applying to year-long writing fellowships and graduate programs which might help her leverage the NEA award to her best advantage. She understands the value of writing residencies, having spent the previous three-and-a-half months at writing residencies, including the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center Arts Retreat and residencies funded by the Edward F. Albee Foundation and the Ragdale Foundation. 

It’s not just the monetary award and the breathing room it affords that means something to Schoenfeld -- it’s the recognition, too. 

“In a way, (winning this NEA award) means everything,” she said. “Fear and doubt are often companions on the writing journey, and to have an organization say they believe in you enough to support your work -- whether by giving you money or, in the case of residencies, the time and space to write -- cannot be underestimated. I send out my work a lot – to journals, residencies, fellowships, and more – and I face rejection often. While I don’t take rejection personally, it can make you doubt yourself and the work you are doing.” 

Schoenfeld was at a writing residency when she got the good news from the NEA. Her first calls were to her SIU family – to a classmate, to members of her MFA thesis committee (Judy Jordan, who chaired the committee, and Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble), and professor emeritus Rodney Jones. 

“Staci Schoenfeld’s poetry is phenomenal, wise and moving,” Jordan said. “Her strongly narrative stories which explore extremely difficult emotional territory are delivered with precise brilliance, compassion, and an exceptional imagination. They take us through moving and difficult terrain with anguish and heartbreak but they lift us up from the chaos of life to the saving light of art. To win an NEA is incredibly rare for any poet but to win one only a few months after finishing an MFA and without having a published book is an exceptional accomplishment and bodes well for Staci’s future as a poet.”