"I am a poet and professor in the English Department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. I received two NEA Fellowships in Poetry, in 1986 and 1992, and served as a judge for the NEA in 1993.

The impact of these NEA Fellowships on me cannot be quantified, and goes far beyond the $20,000 grant I received on each occasion. When I received the first grant, I was twenty-nine years old. I had published one book, with a very small press, that virtually nobody read. That NEA grant was my first real break as a writer. It not only gave me a much-needed economic lift, but the confidence to continue with my work. I never looked back.

A few years later, I discovered, through my work as a judge for the NEA Fellowships, that this was a fastidious process, with multiple guarantees assuring its fairness. I was very impressed by the commitment my fellow judges brought to the process, who believed in creating and supporting a community of poets.

Those who maintain that poetry in this country should be left to the mercy of the 'free market,' that the federal government should not be involved in supporting the arts, know or care little about the experience of poets like me."

Martín Espada

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