The Columbus State University Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians has announced the 2015 Marguerite and Lamar Smith Writing Fellow.
Award-winning poet Rebecca Gayle Howell is the 10th recipient of the competitive fellowship named for McCullers' parents. Each year, the fellow resides and writes from September to December in the Columbus center, 1519 Stark Ave., the childhood home of the celebrated American writer.
Howell's first book of poems, "Render / An Apocalypse" (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013), won the Cleveland State University First Book Prize and was a 2014 finalist for ForeWord Review's Book of the Year. She translated Amal al-Jubouri's "Hagar Before the Occupation / Hagar After the Occupation" (Alice James Books, 2011), and she is the poetry editor for Oxford American. Her other honors include two fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center and a Pushcart Prize.
Howell earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Kentucky and a master of fine arts at Drew University. She is working on her doctorate at Texas Tech University. Courtney George, the center’s director and an assistant professor of English at CSU, along with two creative writing faculty members, professor Nick Norwood and associate professor Aaron Sanders, selected Howell after reading the 38 applications and conducting phone interviews with the three finalists.
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“Rebecca's work is unique in that her poetry incorporates stunning detail to ruminate on larger conceptual ideas in history and culture,” George said in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer. “The committee was also impressed by the passionate way that Rebecca described the collection she'll be working on while visiting Columbus. We are excited to welcome a poet of Rebecca's caliber this fall. This is a fantastic continuance of the fellowship, which pays great tribute to Carson McCullers' legacy as a writer.”
In fact, Howell credits McCullers’ 1940 novel “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” for motivating her career choice. The book “changed my life,” Howell told the L-E in an email. “I read it when I was 15 years old, and it taught me the power literature has to lead us toward empathy. I decided to be a writer after that. I remember thinking about how young she was -- 23! -- when that book was published, and that I'd better start working hard if I was ever going to produce something worthy. This fellowship is a way of bringing that back round, a way for me to thank her in my heart.”
While in residence at the McCullers Center, Howell will work on her second poetry collection. She called it “a purgatory myth set in a place not unlike West Texas, somewhere in our not so far away future of drought and economic crisis. The characters have something essential to learn about themselves and each other before they can move out of their limbo.”
She also will give a free public reading on a date yet to be announced, according to the center’s news release.
The Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellowship contributes to the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians' mission to preserve the legacy of Carson McCullers, nurture American writers and musicians, educate youth and foster the literary and musical life of Columbus, the State of Georgia and the American South. The center presents educational and cultural programs for the community, maintains an archive related to McCullers' life and work, and provides fellowships for emerging writers such as Howell.