Longhorn Poets Win Big

In creative writing circles, UT’s Michener Center for Writers has long been known as one of the nation’s most elite training grounds. Recently, though, word seems to have gotten out.

First The Yellow Birds—the debut novel by Kevin Powers, MFA ’12—won nearly every accolade possible, including being named a finalist for the National Book Award, the winner of the Guardian First Book Award, and one of the New York Times’ 10 best books of 2012. Powers focused on poetry during his time at the Michener Center.

Now a new round of recognition has come in: When this year’s National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in poetry were announced, four Michener Center alumni were among the winners. The extremely competitive $25,000 grants, which are selected anonymously based on the authors’ writing alone, approach near-Holy Grail status in the writing world.

It’s almost unheard of for one writing program to rack up so many grant winners at once, according to Michener Center director Jim Magnuson.

“The total number of NEA grants won by all our faculty is very low,” Magnuson says. “That’s how rare they are. So for four former students to get it all in one year, that’s outrageous.”

Poets Roger Reeves, MFA ’10; Miriam Bird Greenberg, MFA ’08; Jenny Browne, MFA ’07; and Jill Alexander Essbaum, MA ’98, were among the winners.

The grantees are not the only Michener Center poets who have recently gained national attention. Michael and Matthew Dickman, both MFA ’05, were profiled in the New Yorker, and Michael McGriff, MFA ’06, was reviewed in the New York Times.

Magnuson attributes the program’s success to its top-notch faculty and full fellowships, which allow Michener Center students to focus on their craft full-time. “We give them incredible teachers and the time to write,” he says. “This latest news is another stamp of approval that we’re doing amazing things.”

Photo courtesy osiatynska via Flickr Creative Commons.


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