UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 15 Winter 21 Library
Rita Dove & Fred Viebahn | Image by ©Katie Dance

Creative Writing: The Accolades Keep Coming In

Much has and will be written about the effects of the pandemic on the arts and on artists. It is challenging to think of all those who have not been able to share their work with audiences, yet at the same time inspiring to discover the power of art to find a way to guide us still and move us forward.

Yet, there is another side to this unprecedented shutdown to consider as well. How can we quantify the remarkable work that will come out of this period – a time which allowed many artists to focus on their work in a way they have never been able to before. 

These days the Creative Writing program at UVA seems to be reaping some of these benefits as it is in the midst of a remarkable string of accolades and successes shining a light on its many treasures. "The faculty in the Creative Writing program have always been incredibly prolific, generative writers," said the program's Director Kiki Petrosino. "To have a year with this many professional accolades is already amazing, but even more so considering the constraints that have been put on all sorts of artists through the pandemic." 

One of the program's and the world's true gems is no surprise at the front of this accolade parade – the legendary Rita Dove, a former Poet Laureate of the United States and Pulitzer Prize winner whose poetry continues to make its mark around the globe. On November 30, Dove took the stage of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as one of the featured alumni in a gala celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Fulbright Scholars program. That evening, the 1974 Fulbright Scholar appeared alongside an impressive array of special guests and fellow scholars who shared their inspiring stories and key moments of their overseas experiences and the ongoing positive impact they are making in their communities and around the world. 

Sam Nester, Rita Dove, & Renée Fleming
(Photo: ©Katie Dance)
Playlist for the Apocalypse: Poems & Madrigalia: New and Selected Poems

Meanwhile, the year also saw the release of Playlist for the Apocalypse: Poems, Dove's first new collection of poems in 12 years. It was named one of the best books of 2021 by NPR, which called it "both for and of our current moment – one that can feel apocalyptic." Dove's words, they wrote, "pierce history, explore meaning, and interrogate memory." In the book, Dove also shares with her readers for the first time that she has been living with a form of multiple sclerosis since 1997 and explores her journey unflinchingly but with hope. The book recently has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award. 

Another highly-acclaimed recent effort comes from Lisa Russ Spaar. Her latest collection of poems, Madrigalia: New and Selected Poems, was named among the "Favorite Books of 2021" by Virginia Living Magazine, which hailed it by writing, "These poems address life and dreams and history and death. Madrigalia is a beautiful book that delights with wit and words matched with an emotional draw." In her review of the book, Jennifer Chang of The Believer wrote, "Lisa Russ Spaar sounds like no other poet writing today." This spring brings another milestone in Spaar's remarkable career with the release of her first novel, Paradise Close, in which the paths of an orphaned girl in 1971 and a sixty-something recluse in 2016 entwine in a novel of damaged souls and salvaged hope. 

This fall, another notable book launch out of the Creative Writing Department came from Rabih Alameddine, this year's Kapnick Foundation Distinguished Writer in Residence. The National Book Critics' Circle Award finalist for An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine's latest, has been hailed as a transporting journey about an Arab American trans woman's journey among Syrian refugees on Lesbos island. "The novel," said Petrosino, "highlights individuals across a variety of identities who situate themselves relative to the reality of refugees and forced migrations of many kinds." Alameddine, whose previous honors have included a John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, a Harold Washington Literary Award, a Lambda Literary Award, two Arab American Book Awards, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, was also honored with the prestigious 2021 Lannan Literary Award for Fiction and a longlisting for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. 

Kiki Petrosino and Debra Nystrom were among the Creative Writing faculty enjoying honors this year. They are two of six Virginia poets to receive Poetry Fellowships in 2022. In addition, Petrosino's latest book of poetry, White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, recently won the Spalding Award for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature and the UNT Rilke Prize. This summer, she will release her first full-length book of prose, Bright: A Memoir. 

Another department member is highlighting her prodigious writing talents in the music world, Jana Horn's debut album Optimism. Horn, a postgrad fiction-writing student and an MFA fiction writing student has been called "a skeletal marvel" by the Guardian. The songs represent a rumination on broken communication and what it is to be known. Optimism came to be after Horn scrapped plans for an earlier debut album she had recorded after she said she had learned how to appreciate the "ugliness and imperfection" in music, she said. 

Creative Writing Program Lecturer, Professor Anna Martin-Beecher, was recently shortlisted for the Sunday Times Charlotte Aiken Young Writer of the Year Award for her debut novel, Here Comes the Miracle – a "profoundly beautiful story about love and loss, and the beautiful and violent randomness of life." Beecher is a current MFA candidate in the department and a winner of the $10,000 Henfield Prize for Fiction. She has also written widely for theatre and performance, including Nest, which toured the UK in 2019.

Here Comes the Miracle & Anna Beecher
(Photo: Image: Firefly Photography)

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