Maybe you’ve read Evelyn Berry‘s work or heard her perform at a local spoken word event. One of her published works Buggery is even etched in stone on Craig Gray’s sculpture Book Bench – A Novel Idea as part of the newest iteration of the Augusta Sculpture Trail. Well, it would seem this young talent is on the fast track to success.
In addition to being the recipient of the 2022 Dr. Linda Veldheer Memorial Prize, the 2019 Broad River Prize for Prose, and the 2018 Emrys Poetry Prize, as well as other honors, this Aiken, SC resident is now the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship to the sum of $25,000.
A competitive fellowship, Evelyn is one of 36 poets who were selected out of more than 1,900 applicants. This fellowship allows for recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel, and general career development. Fellows are selected through an anonymous review process and are judged on the basis of artistic excellence of the work sample they provided.
“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support this group of poets and provide them with the means to focus on their writing,” said the NEA’s Director of Literary Arts Amy Stolls. “Their poetry explodes with originality in form and content, offering powerful reflections on the pain and joy of our modern times.”
Evelyn Berry often pulls inspiration for her works from life experiences.
“When I was in college, the state house threatened to cut the College Reads program at my university after they assigned the book Fun Home by Alison Bechdell to incoming freshmen. State representatives called the book obscene with one state representative writing to his supporters that he would fight what he called “blatantly pro-homosexual and pornographic propaganda.”
I knew, then, that queer stories, whether in poems or novels or plays or films, were dangerous. I participated in the protests against the policy, sharing poems about the importance of LGBTQ+ voices. I am glad, now, to become not only a rising LGBTQ+ voice in the literary scene but a voice born and raised in the South. My queerness is undeniably Southern, which is why I seek to share stories and poems that reflect that uniquely Southern queer experience. As state governments continue to attempt to ban LGBTQ+ books from libraries and schools, it is more important than ever to share and read stories that center queer lives. As a trans woman who works and lives in the South, I want to ensure that trans stories, especially those historically erased or ignored, are preserved, shared, and celebrated.”
Evelyn is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection Grief Slut (Sundress Publications, 2023) and the young adult novel Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). Her chapbook Buggery (featured in stone on the Augusta Sculpture Trail Craig Gray piece) received the 2019/2020 BOOM Chapbook Prize from Bateau Press.
This fellowship will aid in Evelyn Berry’s access to archives and research to better understand the queer communities’ legacies in South Carolina; the topic of her literary works.
Berry said in her statement for the National Endowment for the Arts: “Queer stories and poems have helped reflect myself back to me, have helped me imagine a future in which I was still alive. Trans people have always belonged in the South, and we will always belong here.”
Since 1967, the NEA has awarded more than 3,600 Creative Writing Fellowships totaling over $57 million. Many American recipients of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Fiction were recipients of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships early in their careers.
You can visit www.arts.gov to browse bios and artist statements from all of the 2023 recipients and past Creative Writing Fellows.