NEA Literature Fellowships

Jenny Johnson

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Jenny Johnson

Photo by Brooke Wyatt

(2019 - Poetry)

"Spaces"

I do not know how
she felt, but I keep

thinking of her—
screaming out to an empty street.

I had been asleep
when I heard a voice

screaming, Help!
and frantic, when I opened my door.

I remember her shoulders
in the faded towel I found  

before she put on my blue sweats
and white T-shirt. Call 911

please, she said.
When the officer arrived

I said, I found her there after the—
But she said,

No, that wasn’t what
happened.

What must be valued
I’m learning,

in clarity and in error,
are spaces

where
feelings are held.

Here—in a poem?
And elsewhere

Jenny Johnson is the author of the poetry collection, In Full Velvet (Sarabande Books, 2017). Her poems have appeared in the New York Times, New England Review, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, and elsewhere. Her honors include a Whiting Award and a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. She was born in Winchester, Virginia. She taught public school in San Francisco before teaching at the college level. She is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at West Virginia University, and she is on the faculty of the Rainier Writing Workshop’s low-residency MFA program. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I am at work on a second book of poems. I intend for the work to be personal and political, implicating my own whiteness, holding the past and present accountable, while also invoking sources of strength and models of resistance within my family and within the anti-racist, queer, and feminist communities I am grateful to be a part of. This award is a palpable affirmation—encouraging me to make the best work that I can. It will grant me invaluable time and space to hunker down, get lost in reading and research, ask myself difficult questions, and write poems. Thank you National Endowment for the Arts; it is an honor to be in such extraordinary company.