A Heroic Couplet

Two Ursinus College poets have earned national distinction for their writing.

M. Nzadi Keita, an associate professor of English, has been named one of 12 Pew Fellows by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and Anna Maria Hong, the visiting creative writer, earned prestigious honors for her first and second books of poetry.

Pew Fellowships have been awarded to exceptional artists in the Philadelphia region since 1992. The fellows are selected from local artists whose work range from film and media to landscape architecture. The artists are awarded $75,000 each and given access to personalized career-development resources with the goal of supporting local artists and creating a thriving artistic community in the Philadelphia area.

“Becoming a Pew Fellow affirms the choice I made many years ago to commit to a life as a writer, despite its many challenges,” says Keita, of Philadelphia. “The fellowship rewards decisions I’ve made about developing poems, every submission I’ve mailed out, and every workshop and class I’ve taken or taught. I’m realizing an expanded sense of community and professional support for what is truly a solitary enterprise.”

Keita’s work has been published in various journals and anthologies, and she is the author of Brief Evidence of Heaven: Poems from the Life of Anna Murray Douglass (Whirlwind Press, 2014), which imagines the life of Anna Murray Douglass, wife to Frederick Douglass, and how she may have seen the world as an independent woman, mother, and an abolitionist.

On inspiration for her writing, Keita says, “the unlikely, the incongruous, the oppositional, the untraceable, the unspoken—these are often the points of witness that launch my writing.  Cultural history tends to get my attention. Currently, birds, public transportation, standing in line, photography, literary characters, and the rapid gentrification of Philadelphia are particular agents of my inspiration.”

Hong’s book, The Glass Age, was selected as the winner of Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Poetry Competition from among nearly 1,200 manuscripts and will be published by the center in 2018. Hong says the book includes sonnets, and “many of the poems retell myths and fairy tales, imbuing the old stories with female and feminist perspectives. Other poems address a sense of racing toward apocalypse and constructions of gender, race, and time.”

Additionally, Hong earned the 2017 Berkshire Prize for a First or Second Book from Tupelo Press for her collection, Fablesque. Tupelo Press will publish the work in 2019.

“I am deeply honored to receive both of these awards and to have my poetry collections chosen by two poets whose work I greatly admire,” Hong says. “The poets who selected my manuscripts, Suzanne Buffam and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, are both incredible writers with incisive and generous aesthetics, and I feel like they’ve just pulled me up in the friendliest way possible.” 

Hong’s novella, H & G, which previously won the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s inaugural Clarissa Dalloway Prize, will also be published in early 2018 by Sidebrow Books.

“I’m really happy about the three publishers that I’m working with, all of which publish wonderful, idiosyncratic writing. CSU’s prize culminates over a decade of drafting and revising and re-ordering the poems to make The Glass Age. It will be great to have the poetry collections and the novella out in the world and books to give people.”

Hong’s work has previously been featured in various poetry journals and anthologies including The Best American Poetry and The Nation, and is a recipient of Poetry magazine’s Frederick Bock Prize.

“I am so proud of our Ursinus poets,” says Jon Volkmer, director of creative writing at Ursinus. “For Nzadi Keita, the Pew Fellowship is overdue recognition of her status as a top-flight poet, and, indirectly, a reward for two decades of brilliant teaching of Ursinus students.”

“Two early book awards in the same month announces to the world that an important poet, Anna Maria Hong, has burst onto the scene. It is a privilege to be able to work alongside Nzadi and Anna Maria,” Volkmer says. —By Mary Lobo