Three Columbia Poets Win NEA Fellowships

By
Jessie Shohfi
January 18, 2023

Alumni Matthew Gellman ’18, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson ’19, and E. J. Koh ’13 were named among the 2023 Creative Writing Fellows by the National Endowment for the Arts.

These prestigious fellowships are highly competitive, with nearly 1,900 eligible applicants this year. The fellowship awards a prize of $25,000 to each winner, with the aim of enabling them the time and liberty to focus on their creative projects. 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.

“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.” 

Matthew Gellman’s poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, Narrative, The Common, Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, Lambda Literary’ s Poetry Spotlight, the Missouri Review, Waxwing, and elsewhere. His chapbook, “Night Logic,” won the 2021 Snowbound Chapbook Prize and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. Matthew has also received awards and honors from Brooklyn Poets, the Academy of American Poets, the Adroit Journal’s Djanikian Scholars Program, and the New York State Summer Writers Institute, and his manuscript, “Beforelight,” has been a finalist for Tupelo Press’ Berkshire Prize, Four Way Books’ Levis Prize, BOA Editions’ A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, and the Alice James Book Award. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

“I am thrilled to be one of this year’s National Endowment for the Arts Fellows for so many reasons, but largely because of the permission this award has given me to trust my own instincts on the page,” said Gellman. “I feel affirmed in my hunger to not give up.”

An excerpt from Night Logic is available here

Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is a poet from Piscataway, New Jersey. He is the author of Slingshot (Nightboat Books, 2019), winner of a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Johnson was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and served as the inaugural poet-in-residence at the Brooklyn Public Library. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his poem “chewbaca was the blackest part of The Force Awakens.” His poems have appeared in Poetry, Apogee, Foglifter, WUSSY, and Atmos among other publications. Watchnight, his forthcoming book of poetry, considers ancestry as history in the context of the Great Black Migration of the 20th century, familial estrangement, and queer family.

“As an artist of the disability justice movement, I have come to believe that the shape of a poem can act as a body does—carving out a distinctive shape that helps us better understand both the poem itself and the background from which it emerged,” Johnson said. “Receiving this money from the National Endowment for the Arts allows me to deepen my questioning, honor my artistic practice, and most importantly, take care of my sick, disabled, black trans body.”

Slingshot is available for purchase here.

E. J. Koh is the author of the memoir The Magical Language of Others (Tin House Books, 2020), Washington State Book Award winner, Pacific Northwest Book Award winner, Association of Asian American Studies Book Award winner, and PEN Open Book Award longlist. Koh is the author of the poetry collection A Lesser Love (Louisiana State U. Press, 2017), Pleiades Editors Prize for Poetry winner. She is the co-translator of Yi Won’s poetry collection The World’s Lightest Motorcycle (Zephyr Press, 2021), Literature Translation Institute of Korea’s Translation Grand Prize winner. Koh has received fellowships from the American Literary Translators Association, MacDowell, and Kundiman. Her work has appeared in AGNI, the Atlantic, Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Poetry, Slate, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. Koh worked in the writers’ room for the Apple TV+ adaptation of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Koh is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington in English literature, studying Korean American literature, history, and film. Her debut novel The Liberators is forthcoming fall 2023.

“After hanging up the call with news of support by the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing, I had to translate for my mother what it was and not only what it meant to me but what it meant to her,” said Koh. “I was not prepared, but I found these words in Korean: ‘It’s something that makes sure you don’t have to worry about me. It means your daughter can speak and be heard. And for you it means that our stories, you and me, we can be part of the world.’”

The Magical Language of Others is available for purchase here