“When I won an NEA fellowship in poetry in 2005, I was an adjunct professor, teaching writing in prisons and several universities, often five classes a semester. When I learned I won the fellowship, I emailed all of my bosses to ask if I could take off a semester and still be welcome back. The money made the time off possible, but I think the prestige of the award helped ensure that I didn't lose my jobs. I was able to complete my first book, Habeas Corpus, that year—after years of writing sonnets in prison parking lots, getting jobs for library access. I think that made everything possible; the fellowships and books that came after, the endless not-giving-up. Now I’m a tenure-track professor at UMass Boston with two books coming out, volunteering with high school kids in my neighborhood in the luxury of my spare time.”

Jill McDonough


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