Claudia Emerson, professor of creative writing at the University of Mary Washington and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, received a prestigious fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim foundation last week, winning $40,000 toward her next creative endeavor.
Emerson discovered the email relaying her acceptance during her early afternoon Poetry Seminar on April 7.
Senior Erin Longbottom was in the room when Emerson read the email on her cell phone.
According to Longbottom, Emerson looked at her phone and immediately seemed excited. After she informed the class of the fellowship, she ran out of the room to tell others.
“Everyone was really happy for her,” Longbottom said. “We had a party in class for her on Tuesday and brought baked goods and sparkling cider to celebrate.”
Emerson plans to use the grant money to travel to Palermo, Italy during a previously scheduled sabbatical during the spring semester of 2012. In Palermo, she hopes to experience the place and culture, while learning about the life and practices of a 20th century embalmer. She also plans to visit several medical history museums in the U.S.
“Coming off a book about postmortem photography, I’m interested in how we refuse to give in to death and how we try to preserve it,” Emerson said. “I’m also interested in 19th century medical practices and education.”
According to the foundation’s website, Emerson is among 180 winners chosen this year out of more than 3,000 applicants.
According to Emerson, 10 poets won the award this year.
“I really respect all of these writers, especially Peter Campion, Maurice Manning and A.E. Stallings,” Emerson said. “I’m really excited about meeting all these people from different disciplines I’m interested in too.”
Since its establishment in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has granted nearly $290 million in fellowships to more than 17,000 individuals.
Emerson won the fellowship after just her first application, titled “Poetics of Preservation: Form and Formula.”
“The Guggenheim is different from other things I’ve applied for in that it’s designed for people who are mid-career, with four or five books already written,” Emerson said. “In applying for it, you send them what you’ve already done. I’ve also got a pretty good track record with delivering on grants. I’m not sure what strings are attached to the money, but there’s a measure of trust regarding my use of it, given my career of professionalism so far.”
Chair of the department of English, Teresa Kennedy said, “For Claudia to win this on her first application is almost unheard of. She deserves it. She is a fantastic colleague and poet…This is one of the most impressive honors to bestow on an artist.”
According to a university press release, Emerson was also inducted yesterday into the Fellowship of Southern Writers, along with 11 other southern writers, including Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Emerson won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection, “Late Wife,” as well.
She is also a former Virginia poet laureate, serving from 2008 through 2010.
According to Emerson, each of her awards has meant something different in her career.
“The Pulitzer was the one award where my mother knew what it was,” Emerson said. “One of the biggest differences about this grant though is that I’ve actually written very little towards it, beyond just research. While I won the Pulitzer for a book I’d already written, I’m getting the Guggenheim for what I’m going to work on next.”
However, winning awards is not Emerson’s first priority.
“I think setting your sights on a prize is like chasing the wind,” she said. “How do you write for that? I think that would really mess with you, with your creative self.”
According to Kennedy, Emerson has a level head about her recent fellowship.
“A lot of people who would win these things would be susceptible to be arrogant,” Kennedy said. “Not her. She is so warm and caring.”