NEA Literature Fellowships

Srikanth Reddy

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(2013 - Poetry)

Introduction to the Underworld


During a recent leave of absence from the middle of my
life, I came across an inscription on a historical prism of
Assurbanipal that I found to be somewhat disquieting.  Of
an enemy whose remains he had abused in a manner
that does not bear repeating here, this most scholarly
of Mesopotamian kings pronounces

I made him more dead than he was before.

(Prism A Beiträge zum Inschriftenwerk
ed. Borger [Harrassowitz 1996] 241)

Prisms of this sort were often buried in the foundations of
government buildings and therefore intended to be read by
gods but not men.  Somewhere in the maze of carrels and
stacks I thought I could hear a low dial tone humming
without end.  In Assurbanipal's library there is a poem,
written on clay, that corrects various commonly held errors
regarding the world of the dead.  Contrary to the accounts
of Mu Lian, Odysseus, and Kwasi Benefo,, it is not
customarily permitted to visit the underworld.  No, the
underworld visits you.

(used with permission from Omnidawn Books)

Srikanth Reddy is the author of two books of poetry--Facts for Visitors and Voyager--and a critical study of modern American poetry, titled Changing Subjects. He has received grants and fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Illinois Arts Council, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, and the Creative Capital Foundation. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the doctoral program in English at Harvard University, Reddy is currently an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. 

Photo by Suzanne Buffam

Art Talk with Suzanne Buffam and Srikanth Reddy

Author's Statement

The most direct benefit of the NEA fellowship for my own practice as a writer will be the gift of time. The difficulty of clearing time and space for writing is, for me, the hardest part of making poems. I hope the NEA fellowship will allow me to clear some of that space and bring this new book to completion. But beyond the gift of time, it's also very validating and encouraging to know that people out there enjoyed the work-in-progress enough to provide it with material support. That's another big part of the benefit of the NEA fellowship--the encouragement to go on with what one is doing.