NEA Literature Fellowships

Melanie Figg

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(2017 - Poetry)

from Untitled

Not To Relic

           Third World waste is extreme like our reality— she wanted to make sculpture out of nothing—
                                     after eight Columbian Justices were torched
inside the court & she smelled their dying.

                                    She could only make work out of nothing—
so she took objects that had meaning
           to the deads’ living & worked the objects until they had no

                                    meaning, but still this was not nothing,
                                                                                not nothing—

Our ordinary terrorisms:
                     to wake in the night to watch your daughter beaten
                     & shoved into a car
& then nothing.
           How to build from that?

Melanie Figg has taught creative writing for 30 years in literary centers, prisons, schools, and arts organizations. She has built a career as a nonprofit fundraiser to support her creative life.

She’s the author of the chapbook Hurry, Love and has an MFA in poetry.Her awards include grants from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Her poems, essays, and reviews are published in dozens of literary journals including The Iowa Review, Conduit, and Nimrod.

Melanie lived for many years in the Twin Cities, and taught at The Loft Literary Center. Now, she lives in the DC metro area and offers creative coaching to artists and teaches at The Writer’s Center and in private consultation. She curates Literary Art Tours in local galleries (a Washington Post Editor’s Pick), and manages a monthly poetry workshop rooted in Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process.

Photo by Anna Carson DeWitt

Author's Statement

I have been an active poet for over 30 years—publishing and performing my work, teaching in community arts centers, prisons, and other venues, curating readings—building my own creative community. It has been an immense entrepreneurial effort as well as a sustained commitment to my work that has been challenging at times.

Like most artists who work outside the university system, I have built a double life. My paycheck comes from being a nonprofit fundraiser, and I have carved out time for writing and teaching. With this fellowship, I will be able to buy an extended period of space to focus on generating new work.

Many thanks to the NEA panelists for this grant. I am incredibly grateful for this gift of time and space. This recognition is so heartening—affirming not only my writing but also my commitment to poetry. I also want to acknowledge the entire Literature Division at the NEA for its support of individual writers, independent publishers, and arts organizations. There are very few financial supports for writers outside of academia, and the leadership role that the NEA plays in building creative infrastructure outside of higher education is essential for the United States to grow and sustain a thriving and diverse creative community. Thank you!