WMU grad student wins coveted NEA creative writing fellowship

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Photo of Traci D. .

Brimhall

KALAMAZOO—A Western Michigan University graduate student is one of 40 people nationwide to be awarded a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship.

As a fellowship recipient, Traci D. Brimhall, a doctoral student in the WMU creative writing poetry program, was awarded a $25,000 cash prize. She hopes to graduate in spring 2014.

After waiting several weeks and not hearing from the NEA, Brimhall decided to call, fearing she had entered her email address incorrectly. Other writers she knew who had applied had already received rejections. She was told she had been approved, but that Hurricane Sandy had caused a delay in notifying the winners.

"The acknowledgement of my work is great," Brimhall says. "But there are so many other deserving people who didn't get an award. I'm very grateful."

The NEA has awarded creative writing fellowships since 1967, providing writers with the time and freedom to pursue their craft. More than 1,100 people applied for the fellowship. The fellowships are among 832 grants totaling $23.3 million through the NEA's Art Works funding program. Non-profit arts organizations in 47 states and in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico received grants along with the 40 creative writing fellowships, totaling $1 million.

Traci D. Brimhall

Brimhall is the only writer in the state of Michigan to receive an individual artist grant; however, many arts organizations in the state received grants.

Born in Little Falls, Minn., Brimhall now calls Kalamazoo home. She was working as house manager at a Shakespeare theatre in Staunton, Va., when she quit her job to throw herself completely into writing.

"I liked describing my life more than I liked living my life," she says. "I knew that that was a problem. So I quit my job and I moved to New York City to take writing seriously. I worked a bunch of odd jobs, wrote, went to writing conferences, applied to graduate school and started to make it my number-one priority in my life. It was one of the best decisions that I've ever made."

Her search for the right graduate school led her to WMU. Not only did she find the right school, she also found the right place.

"I found the kind of writing community I've always wanted here," she says. "Everybody in the creative writing program has been incredibly helpful. But it extends beyond Western to Kalamazoo. There are so many talented people in Kalamazoo and the town is so supportive of the arts. It's really a great community."

The poems Brimhall submitted are from a manuscript tentatively titled "Investigation Into the Unconfirmed Miracles at Puraquequara," described in her artist's statement as "a verse novel that explores a series of mysterious occurrences in an Amazon river town."

Brimhall's mother, who is from Brazil, told her numerous tales about her childhood. Though she herself has never been to Brazil, Brimhall used her imagination to create events that took place in the small town near where her mother grew up. "Instead of actually using her life to write poems," she says, "I'm using her stories as springboards to imagine other things."

Brimhall says that of all the art forms, poetry holds a special sway.

"Part of the magic is language," she says. "I love language and I love seeing what language can make happen in terms of creating experiences, inciting thought and creating and recreating emotions. But I think part of my love for poetry is that it's what I do to learn how to live. I can't answer my questions in my poems; I can just recreate the experience of asking them and recreate the experience of living life.

"Writing gives you the privilege of living twice."