J. Bailey Hutchinson

J. Bailey Hutchinson

Photo by Petra Lee


J. Bailey Hutchinson is the author of Gut, selected by Patricia Smith as the winner of the 2022 Miller Williams Poetry Prize. She received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arkansas where she served as poetry editor for the Arkansas International and assistant director of the Open Mouth Literary Center, a community-based nonprofit literary organization. Hutchinson’s work has been featured by Ninth Letter, Beloit, Muzzle Magazine, Waxwing, Peach Mag, and more. She works as an associate editor for Milkweed Editions and teaches creative writing workshops through a number of organizations, including the Loft Literary Center. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I wrote much of my first book of poetry, Gut, during graduate school. When I was working on the first drafts of the earliest poems in the collection, I operated more on feeling than thought—I knew I liked good sounds, I knew I liked surprises, I knew I liked concrete, sensory language, so I leaned into that. I generated voluminously, tracked the patterns afterwards. I let the poems tell me what my book would be about: inheritance, origins, magic, a river. I had an eye, too, on what the next book would explore: bodily autonomy, identity, intimacy, gratitude. Art so often knows us better than we do.

But during the pandemic and its subsequent, still-pressing crises, poetry took on a lesser role in my life. Writing began to feel like something I used to do, before the isolation, before west coast ash darkened skies two thousand miles away. With this diminishing came a feeling of disconnection from both the broader world and from myself. With so many needs crowding our lives—shelter, nourishment, health, safety—it’s difficult to let art be a priority, to listen to that interior voice asking for something more.

Receiving a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts is, for me, a reminder to listen not only to that voice, but to millennia of voices saying what has always been true: Art matters. Poetry matters. A poem can’t end a pandemic, or return lives unjustly lost, or reverse environmental damage, but it can do something singularly vital: it can cross those intangible bridges between people, bridges so many of us have forgotten. Even me, sometimes. This award is a reminder that the scarce hours we have on Earth are for more than simply surviving. My second collection of poetry will be a testament to that—to connection, to more.