By Katie Linder
Award-winning poet and University of Iowa English faculty member Donika Kelly is one of 36 writers to receive a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship for 2023.
Kelly, an accomplished poet, is the author of The Renunciations, winner of the Anisfield-Wolf book award in poetry, and Bestiary, the winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and a Kate Tufts Discovery Award.
Kelly says she was both shocked and grateful when she received the news of her award.
“Like many writers, I've applied to the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for many cycles, and I didn't expect this year to be different from the others. I'm grateful to have the support of the NEA in funding a year of research for my next poetry collection, and I've felt the borders of my imagination stretch toward further and new horizons,” she says.
With the support of the fellowship, Kelly will be able to focus on writing, research, travel, and career development. This highly competitive award drew more than 1,900 applications and is selected through an anonymous review process.
Kelly joined the faculty at Iowa in 2020 after previously teaching at the City University of New York’s Baruch College. She earned an MFA in writing from the Michener Center for Writers and a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University.
She says the University of Iowa has been tremendously beneficial to her writing life.
“My colleagues are generous, rigorous artists and scholars whose commitment to excellence buoys my own,” Kelly explains. “The university has also provided generous research support that has allowed me to seek out new collaborators and gather new materials and experiences for my third manuscript, currently in progress.”
Kelly teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa and lives in Iowa City with her wife, fellow author, and professor, Melissa Febos, who were both finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2022.
Since 1967, the NEA has awarded more than 3,600 Creative Writing Fellowships totaling more than $57 million. Many American recipients of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Fiction were recipients of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships early in their careers.