NEA Literature Fellowships

Maggie Nelson

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(2011 - Poetry)


Can beauty save us? Yesterday
I looked at the river and a sliver
of moon and knew the answer;

today I fell asleep in a spot of sun
behind a Vermont barn, woke to
darkness, a thin whistle of wind

and the answer changed. Inside the barn
the boys build bongs out of
copper piping, electrical tape, and

jars. All of the children here have
leaky brown eyes, and a certain precision
of gesture. Even the maple syrup

tastes like liquor. After dinner
I sit the cutest little boy on my knee
and read him a book about the history of cod

absentmindedly explaining overfishing,
the slave trade. People for rum? he asks,
incredulously. Yes, I nod. People for rum.

Maggie Nelson is the author of eight books of poetry and prose. Her poetry collections include Something Bright, Then Holes (Soft Skull Press, 2007) and Jane: A Murder (Soft Skull, 2005; finalist, the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir). Her books of nonfiction include The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (W. W. Norton, 2011), Bluets (Wave Books, 2009), Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (University of Iowa Press, 2007; recipient of a Creative Capital Arts Writers grant), and The Red Parts: A Memoir (Free Press, 2007; named a Notable Book of the Year by the State of Michigan). Since 2005, she has taught on the BFA and MFA faculty of the School of Critical Studies at CalArts in Valencia, Califonia. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her partner, artist Harry Dodge, and her stepson, Lenny.

Photo by Harry Dodge

Author's Statement

This award comes at a terrific time for me, as it offers both encouragement and recognition of my career as a poet and writer thus far. I am immensely grateful for it, as it will make all kinds of unforeseen things possible for me in the coming year. I truly look forward to the open vista of thinking and articulating that it promises, and I offer my great thanks for its gift.