“I threw the pencil in the air…

My NEA Fellowship—awarded in 1988—was the magic wand that turned me from an ambitious but bewildered post-grad-student into an actual artist, and it paved the way for the wonderful life I have been able to lead, and the skills (and hope) I have transmitted to others. When the phone call came it was my Aunt, contacting me at the MacDowell Colony (I had gone into one of the pay phone booths in the main building to return her phone call): she had an envelope there (far away in Palo Alto) for me from the National Endowment for the Arts, should she open it? Yes, please! The amazing good news sent me spinning out of the booth, throwing the pencil I’d been taking notes with high in the air…and when I came back to the building for dinner I found the other artists (who all understood what this recognition meant) had prepared congratulations and managed gifts at short notice, turning the evening into a sort of birthday fete. And it was a birthday: the NEA lifted me up and made my work visible, and that recognition led to my first teaching position (at Colby College, as a Visiting Assistant Professor), which is the start of the road that leads me to my position as the McElveen Professor in English at LSU. I was and am deeply honored and grateful for that immensely important recognition—and I know how important the fellowship has been to so many people, and how important it will be for my students and their students. The arts in America are vastly (compared to the rest of the developed world) underfunded, and the NEA is a crucial part of the way we encourage our young people to aspire and dream in potent and effective ways.”

Laura Mullen

The National Endowment for the Arts is the largest single funder of the arts across America and has helped make Poets.org possible. Learn more about how you can support the NEA.