As news about the potential defunding of the NEA continues to spread across the nation, LitNet has responded by reaching out to organizations who have been recipients of NEA support. We’ve asked them to share their stories about how the NEA’s stewardship in American arts has made a difference in their organization’s work, in the lives of their beneficiaries, in our communities. Here’s how they answered:
A Public Space
With the support of the NEA, A Public Space last year dedicated an issue to a generation of women artists who work outside of public attention. Our research led us to the filmmaker, writer, and civil-rights activist Kathleen Collins (1942-1988), and a meeting with her daughter resulted in the discovery of unpublished writing that she had stored for decades in her closet. Publication in A Public Space (only the second story of hers ever published) led to a book deal for a story collection, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, finally Collins’s writing is receiving the long-overdue recognition it deserves (including mention on several best books of the year lists).
The significance of what the NEA makes possible is perhaps best conveyed by Kathleen Collins’s daughter, in an article in the New York Times: “”The literary journal A Public Space… contacted Ms. Collins to see if her mother had any unpublished writing. Ms. Collins… thought of the stories. She hadn’t given any thought to publishing them. ‘I thought, who’s going to care about these?’ she said.”” We are enormously grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts for caring. The NEA’s support allows us—and numerous other literary organizations—to ensure that writers whose work might otherwise be overlooked are given a place and, in the case of Kathleen Collins, saved a vital American voice from being lost to history.
Academy of American Poets
The Academy of American Poets, the nation’s largest member-supported organization championing poets and poetry, has worked with the National Endowment for the Arts to launch a range of programs, including the first Poets-in-the-Schools program in 1966; Poets.org, the first major website for poetry, and National Poetry Month in 1996; and Poem-a-Day more recently. These programs reach more than 20 million readers each year in all 50 states. Our ability to share poems, and promote poets and poetry, would be diminished without support from the NEA, which includes funding and the expertise and guidance of their staff.
Alice James Books
That funding from the NEA has been instrumental in the work of Alice James Books for over a decade, is a gross understatement. The NEA has been an essential partner in publishing AJB books and supporting authors that are fundamental to the nation’s literary landscape. It is one of the only lifelines available in our nation for the literary arts.
The NEA has partnered with Alice James to publish work by poets across the nation that carry urgent stories of significant value to their readers. As a sampling, the press and the NEA have collaborated to publish work from/about a veteran’s life during and after the Iraq war, a grieving mother who lost her daughter to domestic violence, a juvenile who was tried as an adult and incarcerated in prison, and a woman who grew up undocumented in California. These projects are ones that reach for and make very human connections between Americans. They help us to explore, understand, and empathize with our fellow citizens. They help us learn about each other and our nation. They bring people together.
There’s no price to be put on the value of the NEA’s work. If anything, the example they’ve set should be followed and amplified. We should be actively lifting up the arts and artists of our country, as they are the greatest representation of our abilities and achievements as a nation. The NEA is a bold and steady leader, and AJB is grateful, nay indebted, to them for their service and stewardship.
Bellevue Literary Press
Bellevue Literary Press is coming up on our 10-year anniversary this spring. Approaching this milestone, we’ve been looking back on our remarkable successes with pride. Our efforts have been honored by a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award nomination, and accolades in the New York Times, National Public Radio, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and Publishers Weekly, among other national and international media outlets. Many of the works of fiction and nonfiction that we’ve published over these years—books of ideas and artistry—were passed over by the for-profit publishing industry as being “too small.” But through us, they’ve found an ardent readership and had a big impact on the culture. And we’ve done it all on a shoestring budget with a tiny staff.
Our books have been used in classrooms, drawn upon for official UN reports, and chosen for “all-city” reads. Though our publishing and affiliated programming, we promote inter-disciplinary dialogue, the medical humanities, and science literacy. In spite of our unique position as a trade-book publisher affiliated with a major medical school (NYU School of Medicine) dedicated to publishing books at the intersection of the arts and sciences, BLP is wholly self-sustaining. And regardless of our critical triumphs, we continue to struggle mightily to survive.
While we’ve had success helping our authors break through the noise of a celebrity-dominated “entertainment” society, we rely on significant philanthropy from the NEA and our NYSCA, since revenue from book sales is not sufficient to meet our modest budget. Without their support, we won’t be able to continue our work into our second decade.
The Bellevue Literary Review
The Bellevue Literary Review was created as a forum for creatively exploring a broad array of issues in medicine and society, using fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to better understand the nuanced tensions that define our lives both in illness and in health. Funding from the National Endowment for the Arts has supported theme issues that explore subjects including memory, the environment, and war, which – beyond being important collections of writing on these themes – provide useful educational tools for teachers, writing groups, and others.
The BLR’s issue on the ramifications of war was a particularly timely collection of poetry and prose. Some of the highlights of the issue were gripping personal narratives from voices as diverse as a Holocaust survivor and a young writer who was born in one of Iran’s most infamous prisons, and stories about PTSD, survivor’s guilt, grief, loss, longing, and terror. As one review noted, “It sounds like a lot — and it is an ambitious collection — but underlying every piece is a thread of common humanity, a search for connection even when the force of war conspires against it… This is a textured collection of pieces that isn’t afraid to leave the reader with more questions than it answers, and it chooses to be provocative rather than pedantic.” The NEA’s support has been crucial to our growth as a publication and is vital to the nation’s culture.
BOA Editions, Ltd.
For nearly twenty years, the NEA has supported a portion of the books we publish. These grants provide partial funds for the production, publication, and promotion of new BOA titles. In 2017, a grant of $20,000 from the NEA will allow BOA to undertake the publication of eight new titles (a project that’s total cost will top $200,000). First and foremost, these grants help us achieve our mission to foster readership and appreciation of contemporary literature. By providing grant funds that go directly to new BOA titles, the NEA supports the intrinsic value of poetry and fiction. But the lofty ideals of literature can overshadow the day-to-day work of book production, and the amount of collaboration involved in the process. At a time when funding for the arts is under fire, it’s worth stepping back and looking at the ways these funds not only help support literature, but also sustain an ecosystem of suppliers, vendors, and distributors that book publishers rely on. If you open a BOA book, there’s a good chance you’ll find a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) “Art Works” logo on the copyright page. When you do, it means that the book you’re holding was published with the support of an NEA grant.
The Cabin, A Center for Readers & Writers in Boise, Idaho
The Cabin is a non-profit located in Boise, Idaho, and runs a Writers in the Schools program for area schools, juvenile detention centers, and other community spaces. In 2016 we were fortunate to receive a grant to expand our Writers in the Schools program into more public high schools in the Boise district. The grant allows us to pay a teaching-writer to go into a classroom and provide creative writing instruction and prompts. We specifically will use this grant money to sponsor creative writing residencies within high schools that are Title I and have more diverse school demographics, including area high schools that serve recently re-settled refugees of high school age.
Just this month in January, we were able to meet and coordinate with the BRIDGE program at Borah High School, which works with newcomers to the country. Thanks to the NEA grant, we are able to place a multilingual teaching-writer to work with 15-20 high school students from refugee and immigrant backgrounds. She will provide creative writing instruction which will encourage these students to write about their lived experiences, as well as aid in their reading and writing skills in their native and new languages.
Coffee House Press
The NEA has been funding Coffee House Press for decades, which has allowed us to make the shelves of the nation’s libraries more diverse, so that people of all cultures can more easily find examples of their own stories. One example of this is a project that the NEA funded in 2008: the debut work by Kao Kalia Yang: The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. The NEA helped us take a chance on this book, which would have been deemed to niche for a commercial house. This was the first book-length creative work by a Hmong person published in the United States.
It has gone on to be read in hundreds of schools and in scores of communities, colleges, and libraries as a “community read” book, read across communities, across demographics, political parties, races, cultures, and creeds. This is a book that has united different people, and allowed them to talk to each other about shared immigration stories that helped make this country what it is today. And, last year, it was chosen to be part of the NEA’s Big Read, a great honor for a young author who was once a refugee in a camp in Thailand, who then made her way to America.
CLMP: Community of Literary Magazines & Presses
Simply put, CLMP (Community of Literary Magazines and Presses), the national nonprofit service organization for independent literary publishing in America, could not exist without the NEA. A committee—led by George Plimpton, Russell Banks, and others—formed by the NEA in 1967, in fact founded this organization. NEA support since then has been a cornerstone of our budget and we would not be able to continue our important work without the ongoing funding we receive from this essential agency. We directly serve some 400 small publishers across America, in every state, who rely on our help to function as effective small businesses as well as cultural organizations. This community publishes more than 98% of the poetry, work in translation, and other forms of literature that form the living, essential history of our culture. We provide essential skills and a hub for shared learning that allows this community and the countless thousands of writers and readers each of them serve to share in our nation’s story. A great country does indeed deserve great art. It’s vital to our survival as a culture, and the NEA plays a key role in that charge.
NEA funding, though—in addition to how absolutely necessary it has been to our survival—indeed represents only part of what NEA support has meant and means to us. In addition to the symbolic importance of having federal support, which alone says that we as a country care about our culture—and that in the case of supporting literary arts organizations, that our government wants to ensure that all stories can be told—the NEA has provided other essential roles and services. For years, the NEA has been uniquely positioned to gather data on our field and combine it with other data collected by the government to powerfully demonstrate both the economic impact of the arts and how art affects Americans from all corners of our country. The NEA has gone well beyond the essential role of a grant-maker, bringing geographically desperate organizations together through its regular and excellent communications, and physical convenings as well. They have generously shared their “bird’s eye view” of art-making and art-experiencing in America such that we all can benefit. Because of the NEA, all ships rise: from budding writers learning their craft to our largest literary arts organizations being able to serve large audiences; from the storytellers of culturally specific populations—whose tales may be integral to our ongoing national narrative but whose words may not be seen as overtly “marketable” by commercial publishing—to readers everywhere and of all ages.
Ecotone and Lookout Books
Thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Arts, for many years Ecotone and Lookout Books have been able to publish and promote the work of writers and artists from all over the country. Without this crucial funding, and the community of artists, writers, and publishers that comes with it, we would not have been able to produce many issues of Ecotone, work from which is widely reprinted; an award-winning Lookout Books anthology of fiction from the magazine; full-length collections from Edith Pearlman, John Rybicki, Steve Almond, and Ben Miller; a newly redesigned Ecotone website; a new Ecotone + Lookout Books blog; and publicity and tour support for author visits, not only to bookstores but also to libraries, hospitals, community centers, and underresourced schools. We have also been able to increase payments for our contributors, many of whom support their families as working writers and artists. In addition, the funding we have received helps further our mission to teach the craft of editing and publishing, offering graduate and undergraduate students hands-on experience learning invaluable skills.
Simply put, without the NEA, our work would be less far-reaching, less supportive of working writers, and less effective in helping our students learn. With the NEA, we are challenged to create wider audiences for our publications, to offer our students richer applied-learning experiences, and to publish more of the vital creative work that we and our readers love.
Government arts funding makes Epiphany possible. Our independent literary magazine operates on a small budget of less than 100k/year, and government funding is an indispensable part of our income. Without it, we would not have been able to introduce global phenomenon Elena Ferrante to the English-speaking world in our pages; we would not have been able to shine a light on gay Chinese poets whose work is censored in their home country; we would not have been able to excerpt Domingo Martinez’s novel, which went on to become a National Book Award Finalist, when he was still unpublished. Every year, Epiphany supports dozens of emerging and established writers by helping to develop and uphold their work through an independent lens. Art and artists – especially emerging artists – need independent arts organizations to drive them and to champion them. And independent arts organizations need government funding. We are nothing without culture, and the NEA is essential to allowing culture to blossom in the country. We are deeply committed to its continuing existence and growth.
Four Way Books
Four Way Books is dedicated to producing and promoting excellent literary publications and to creating opportunities for writers of merit. We believe that the work of writers brings good to the world—understanding, empathy, curiosity, wisdom—and that if we can be the conduit for connecting writers and readers, for making a writer’s life more meaningful by bringing validation to the artist and fine work to public attention, we are spending our days nobly.
NEA support is essential to maintaining and developing our publishing program. It has allowed us to grow from 3-5 books a year to 15-18 books a year — poetry and literary fiction. Our authors and their books have won such awards as
The Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, The Massachusetts Book Prize, The Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Lenore Marshall Award from The Academy of American Poets, and many other national awards. Our books have been reviewed in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review and countless other publications.
We believe a great nation deserves great art and that the NEA’s steadfast support of great art is crucial to the country and to its citizens. Art is not for the elite. It is for all. And support from the NEA would not only cause the demise of many great non profit organizations, it would cause the loss of many jobs as well. Surely, the NEA enriches lives, enriches this country. Keeps us great.
Futurepoem received a past NEA grant through a fiscal sponsor. Our NEA grant enabled us to publish important books by talented emerging poets. These works made a huge difference in the development of these writer’s careers and enhanced our credibility with other potential funders.The NEA’s support enabled us to publishing and support books by exciting new literary talents like Shanxing Wang, author or Mad Science in Imperial City. Mr. Wang’s book influenced many other writers and literary readers and his book went on to win the Asian-American Literature Award for Poetry. I know that Mr. Wang’s book was also taught in many university classes and has influenced a large number of students of contemporary literature.
In addition, as part of our book production process Futurepoem hires a number of creative contractors such as book designers, editors and administrative workers. We also make a commitment to printing all our books and using fulfillment services in the U.S. and supporting our national and local economy. The NEA’s support had a direct effect in enabling Futurepoem to continue to create new income for creative workers throughout the U.S. and support national and local small businesses in predominantly rural areas of New York State, New Jersey, Michigan and elsewhere.
The National Endowment for the Arts has had a tremendous positive impact on Graywolf Press for decades. The NEA consistently enhances Graywolf’s ability to publish important books by a diverse cross-section of authors on a variety of subjects. That support has ripple effects across America as these titles are reviewed by newspapers, magazines, television, and radio, taught in colleges and high schools, and treasured by Americans from all walks of life. Literature is not partisan. It helps us understand and relate to our neighbors, whether they are next door, in a big city in another state, in a small town, or even in another country. We believe that this ability to have empathy and respect for each other is an essential element of maintaining a healthy democracy. Funding from the NEA also functions as an engine for creating jobs. Graywolf employs thirteen people full-time and works with a large stable of freelance designers, copyeditors, proofreaders, and consultants. Graywolf makes an economic difference to bookstores, literary centers, and the wider literary ecosystem.
The NEA’s support of Graywolf Press has been so consistent, and so important, that it would be impossible to quantify. It has helped usher into the world books that highlight the importance of freedom of speech, like June Fourth Elegies by Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (translated by Jeffrey Yang). Liu Xiaobo is still imprisoned in China for his pro-democracy views. The NEA has also supported Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and Citizen: An American Lyric, two influential books by poet Claudia Rankine that question and illuminate our country’s culture of racism. The NEA has helped us discover, edit, and distribute many such singular works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that shed light on our times. In sum, over the years, the NEA has magnified Graywolf’s ability to support writers before they have found a wide audience and to guarantee that readers have access to diverse and important books.
I have received grants from both the NEA and the NEH (1 each) for writing projects in the past 10 years. I work two jobs, teaching and editing, while also trying to write books and keep a family of five on the rails. I would never be able to finish a major project without the support of writing and research grants like those from NEA, which buy me time to teach less and enable me to devote sustained attention to writing. Universities provide professors with sabbaticals for precisely this reason—because it’s so hard to create anything when you have a million distractions. This is what the NEA has given me.
At a larger level, however, the amount of money spent on artists in America is trivial compared with the money that subsidizes agriculture or pays for weapons or is lost to tax evasion. Not every single artist’s grant is going to produce a marvel, but the ecosystem of artists of all kinds—not just writers, but painters, photographers, filmmakers, etc.—working away, year after year, trying one thing after another, sometimes hitting it, often missing, is what lies behind the creation of great and enduring works of art. No civilized society would ever want to be without this; and no society without it will ever be remembered as truly civilized.
Herstory Writers Workshop
Can participation in literary creation change lives and empower the next generation? Can it heal our wounded communities and hearts? Can it break down the cycles of poverty, violence, addiction and abuse, while creating a memorable body of work? For the past 21 years, Herstory Writers Workshop, Inc. has been working to give voice to some of the most vulnerable people on Long Island, while gradually expanding to include New York City sites. With the help of the National Endowment for the Arts, we are now able to offer four workshops a week for women and girls incarcerated in Long Island’s County jails and on Riker’s Island. Our weekly bridge-building workshops in Spanish and English in Nassau and Suffolk Counties provide opportunities for those who would be left out of MFA programs to create book- length projects through a special set of tools focusing on what creates reader empathy. This levels the playing field in developing a powerful literature emerging from the grass roots, while bringing together people across the barriers of differences in race, class and culture that so often keep us from hearing one another. We work with the Martin Luther King Center of Long Beach, with survivors and perpetrators of gun violence, and host a workshop in Harlem for survivors of domestic violence who faced incarceration when they fought back to defend their children and themselves. Herstory’s high profile Young Writers Program brings students from some of Long Island’s and Queeens County’s most at risk school districts, where teen pregnancy, gang violence and school drop-out rates run high, to write with college students on their campuses, creating mutual understanding, possibility and empowerment through their words.
Herstory is currently partnering with Hofstra University’s Center for Civic Engagement in its first pilot year of training workshop facilitators to go into underserved communities and with the University’s Special Collections and Digital Research Center to create a digital archive of Unheard Voices of Long Island’s Living History to be used by students, teachers, researchers, community and governmental leaders to illuminate the problems and possibilities that face our communities, while inspiring an ever increasing number of grass roots writers to take part in the creation of powerful literary works. We have published two full-length anthologies, two manuals, two memoirs and two folio editions that are used in our local colleges and in the community.
Mom Egg Review
We are a print literary journal with a focus on motherhood. We have benefitted from NEA through re-grants from CLMP and NYSCA. From those grants, we have been able to reach a greater audience in print and online. Those readers have let us know how significant being able to read fine literature that reflects their own experience and diverse ones has been. We also value many other literary organizations that receive significant funding from NEA. Just one example–I’m on the board of Four Way Books, which produced a Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry with assistance from NEA. Literature and the arts are more vital than ever. Please help assure their continued support.
New England Review
The New England Review received $10,000 in funding from the NEA to assist in publishing and promoting the quarterly journal of new literature. In addition to assisting NER in the costs of publishing and promoting excellent literary work, the award from the National Endowment from the Arts had several positive impacts.
The impact on writers was clear. We had been paying $10/page for about 20 years, but when we received this grant we were able to begin paying $20/page. This had a direct positive impact both on the contributors and on our magazine. The higher pay rate made us more competitive with similar journals, and had a positive effect on the way NER is perceived by the literary community overall. As for the authors, payment from journals is often overlooked as a benefit, but the impact of even a small check for one’s work goes a long way in encouraging future work. This benefit extends well beyond our journal and into these writers’ lives. We are now committed to maintaining this pay rate by whatever means possible.
We often hear from writers that publication in NER marked a turning point in their creative lives, and even writers we published many years ago tell us how much it meant to them to appear in NER. For example, we published one of Robert Oldshue’s first stories in 2008, and two later ones over the years, and in 2015 he won the Iowa Short Fiction Award for his collection including those three stories. At a recent reading, poet Jennifer Grotz reminded us how one of her earliest poetry publications in 1999 in NER led to a Best American selection and an ongoing relationship with NER and greater confidence in her work. One author whose essay I edited this spring expressed great pleasure in the editing process, as we traded the manuscript back and forth. We’re creating a powerful community of writers whose work is nourished by our attention and readership.
Our project of publication and promotion of NER — which is strengthened by funding from the NEA well beyond the relatively small monetary cost–benefits writers in many unspoken ways, and in turn strengthens our literary community and our nation.
The NEA has been vital in supporting the work of Ploughshares literary journal since our founding 45 years ago. The modest grants we receive from the NEA, while certainly not enough to keep the magazine in business, nonetheless underwrite the costs of printing one issue of the journal each year. More importantly, a grant from the NEA serves as a seal of approval for the hard work we do to discover new literary talent. We publish writers from all across the country and disseminate that work to our subscribers on all seven continents. The literary magazine is an incubator for the literature of the future–“discovering tomorrow’s classics today.” PLEASE don’t underestimate the role America’s extremely talented writers (and artists) have played in making America great. Our country’s generous support for the arts is the envy of all the world! It sets us apart from almost every other country. Our artists have been among our most important cultural ambassadors, taking the values or our remarkable, dynamic democracy to every corner of the globe. NEA has been at the heart of that mission.
Poets & Writers
With the NEA’s sustained support, Poets & Writers has grown into the nation’s largest organization serving creative writers. Grants from the NEA helped to launch two of our key programs: Poets & Writers Magazine, which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year and which has over 100,000 readers; and our website, pw.org, which we launched in 1996 and which now draws over 140,000 visitors per month.
Writers from Jonathan Franzen to Tracy K. Smith, Michael Cunningham to Claudia Rankine, Audrey Niffenegger to Ocean Vuong, have told us that Poets & Writers helped them get started, taught them how to submit work to literary journals, find an agent, or connect with others in the literary community through the resources we provide.
We also help an ecosystem of literary organizations—small presses, literary magazines, reading series, writer’s groups—that rely on Poets & Writers to reach their constituents. The poet Jane Hirshfield described Poets & Writers as “a kind of Osmocote or Greensand slow-release fertilizer for America’s literary landscape.”
Without the consistent support the NEA has provided, our ability to provide trustworthy information and advice, to encourage writers, and to nurture the nation’s literary community would not be possible.
Small Press Distribution
Small Press Distribution connects readers with writers by providing national access to independently published literature through book distribution. NEA support has been essential to the survival and growth of SPD. The NEA allowed SPD to grow from distributing five small publishers in 1969 to distributing the 400+ presses we distribute today. Without the NEA, SPD would have ceased to exist in the 70s when we were first struggling to survive. Back then NEA provided almost half of SPD’s 80K budget, whereas last year SPD’s NEA grant was just 4% of our one million dollar budget. In the 80s the other dozen or so small book distributors in the US all went under. It was crucial support from the NEA, as well as their support of the California Arts Council from which we also receive funds, that allowed SPD to survive and become the thriving, essential organization it is today. Without SPD so many small literary presses in the US would not have access to a national market and would not be able to reach the quarter of a million readers SPD books reach every year. With continued NEA support SPD distributes nearly 200,000 books per year and reaches out to all Americans who want to read their personal stories in books produced by people from their own communities. NEA supports small presses directly and also supports a wide variety of small American businesses—bookstores, libraries, nonprofit organizations, and colleges—by helping SPD to be a reliable source for the poetry, fiction and nonfiction books that are essential to readers. Thousands of jobs and a thriving small press book industry would cease to exist without our crucial support from the NEA.
AWP: The Association of Writers & Writing Programs
The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) serves 34,000 writers, teachers, and students. AWP’s annual conference and bookfair attracts 12,000 literary professionals each year, and it brings $30 million in economic activity to its host city each year. AWP would not exist today if it were not for support from the NEA. When AWP was founded, in 1967, AWP served fewer than 100 writers and teachers. The NEA helped AWP to hold it first conference and to hire its first staffer in the 1970s.
In the decades that followed, the NEA helped AWP improve all its projects and services. AWP has helped America to produce a literature as diverse as its peoples and thereby illuminate the history and aspirations of the American Dream. While it has helped to develop bigger audiences for literature, AWP has helped to educate and advance the careers of many or our nation’s Pulitzer Prize Winners, National Book Award Winners, and Poet Laureates.
Through the years, the Backwaters Press has been supported by generous contributions, not only from individual members of our communities, but also by grants given to the press through the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Humanities Council, both of which receive funding through the National Endowment for the Arts. The local support from individuals shows us that the public readings the press sponsors and the poetry books we publish are important to the vitality and the spirit of the community.
The Backwaters Press, through the financial support that comes to the press from the NEA through our state arts agencies makes a stronger and more vibrant America, as evidenced by the literary treasures to come out of this state, from the monumental achievement of Willa Cather’s fiction to the current work of Pulitzer Prize winner and US Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser.
NEA support was instrumental in allowing The Common’s literature and art to be free and open access to all regardless of location and resources. With NEA support, we launched new, free, dynamic features on our website, such as interviews, book reviews, and audio. Online features like these help authors find new audiences and provide entry points for young, disadvantaged, and far-flung readers. Content that is free to readers is not free to produce, and NEA funds provided support to editors curating these important free materials. The NEA also supported our educational initiative, The Common in the Classroom, which provides discounted issues and free desk copies to students around the country, as well as a host of free supplementary materials for diverse students nationwide who otherwise would not have access to the global, contemporary voices we publish.
Finally, the NEA supported the publication and promotion of a special issue of Arabic fiction, the first by a literary magazine in the US. Such efforts to bring these voices to American audiences are crucial to cross-cultural understanding and therefore promoting peace and working against pernicious stereotypes.
The Iowa Review
Through the NEA, The Iowa Review has been able to fund the Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans. This contest is only open to US veterans and has taken place every two years for the past six years. This is an incredible opportunity and platform for members of our community who have served in such important roles to share their work and their experiences and be paid. The contest pays $1,000 to the winner, $750 to second place, and $500 to three runners-up. Each contest has a judge who is also a veteran writer. The loss of our NEA grant would most certainly eliminate our ability to fund this contest, which is free to enter. This would be a huge loss to the arts community, but also and especially to the veteran community. The NEA grant also funds the veterans section of The Iowa Review’s website, which is an ongoing platform for publishing veterans’ work, and also provides writing resources for veterans.
The Loft Literary Center
The Loft Literary Center has been serving readers, writers, and curious minds in Minneapolis for almost 42 years, serving more than 14,000 people annually. Throughout our history we have relied on NEA funding to provide programming that includes creative writing classes for adults and children, mentor programs for emerging writings, public readings with diverse voices, and writing residencies in public schools, nursing homes, community centers, public libraries, and hospitals.
When we reached out to our members about why the Loft matters to them, we had hundreds of responses within minutes. Please read just a few of them below:
1) I am a writer because of the Loft. From my first-ever writing class 10+ years ago, to seeing my favorite authors at readings and conferences, to being awarded a Mentor Series spot, to becoming a teaching artist, to joining the Board, the Loft has shaped the course of my life.
2) Along with granting me access to a diverse community of writers I wouldn’t know otherwise, the Loft has been present at every part of my career as a writer. From when I was struggling in high school, to when I was struggling to make ends meet trying to be a full-time writer, to when I was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award. The Loft has been monumental in helping me build and sustain a career as a writer. Without the Loft Literary Center, and the National Endowment for the Arts, I would not be a writer. The work the Loft does doesn’t just stay within the wall of the Open Book building. Its legacy follows each person (each person who attends a reading, a class, a lecture, a program) into the world.
3) I feel very fortunate to have worked with students who’ve competed in Poetry Out Loud contests in three very different schools: at a large suburban high school, at a charter school, and at an independent school. In each school, a wide variety of students volunteered to participate in the program and each student was able to connect with poems in a completely different way than they did in the classroom setting. POL brings poetry to life for students in a way that no other program is able to replicate. In all the years I’ve been involved with POL, since 2006, the Loft has provided tremendous support for the students and provided amazing opportunities. I hope that the Loft will be able to continue as the sponsoring organization for POL as the connection between the written and spoken word is alive in a way that is not replicated in any other place in our Twin Cities.
The Loft is an essential part of Minnesota’s artistic community and our work would not be possible without the support of the NEA.
The University of Arizona Poetry Center
Support from the National Endowment for the Arts has funded the Poetry Center’s Reading and Lecture series, a leading presenting series that for the past 50+ years has featured poets and writers in the American Southwest. Over the past three and half years, 13,553 people have attended our free readings and lectures. In that same span, we’ve reinvested the NEA’s support as payments to the more than 100 presenting writers, participating in the economy of artistic production. The NEA’s support of the series has additional, connected benefits: the visits from these writers supported by the NEA feed our educational programs, which reaches more than 5,000 Arizona school children annually; many writers visit classrooms and students while in Tucson for their respective readings. Likewise, NEA supported visits encourage activity in the Center’s 70,000+ item library, one of the largest standalone poetry collections in the country. Our audience reads the books of those featured in the series, and discovers others. NEA supported visits create the opportunity for multiple ancillary engagements: Shop Talks orient our audiences to visiting writer’s work before their readings (over the same three and a half years, we’ve had 21 shop talks led by local writers that served 441 people), gallery presentations that feature the work of visiting writers and artists, and web content featuring visiting authors. This further extends the reach of the NEA’s support and connects those geographically far to the Center’s programs and collections: (Some examples of visiting poets and our digital spaces: Teaching Ross Gay’s poems to children; interviewing Brenda Hillman; From the Stacks, a series that asks visiting poets like Solmaz Sharif to curate a bookshelf from the Center’s collection, or share a favorite poem as Terrance Hayes did; or participate on the fortnightly radio show Speedway and Swan that the Center supports with local station KXCI, as Danniel Schoonebeek and others have.) All Reading and Lecture series events are recorded; the readings are featured in the Poetry Center’s archive Voca, one of the most significant collections of recorded poetry anywhere, featuring nearly 900 readings in Tucson, spanning 1963 to the present. The NEA’s support of the reading series animates all of these other aspects of the Center’s work, which allows us connect with a much larger and more diverse audience than our Reading and Lectures series events alone.
Beyond this direct support, funding from the NEA offers critical indirect support. As a public/private partnership with the University of Arizona and the broader literary community in Tucson and beyond, we annually rely on donations from the community to fund our programmatic efforts. We have found that investments from the NEA encourage other critical philanthropic support, and help establish the Center’s programs in our community. Through anecdote and emails we know that the NEA’s support of Center is recognized and valued. Our entire program—our collection, our reading series events, or education programs, and our partnerships in the community—are contingent on philanthropy, and our experience is that NEA support has had a positive impact on other critical giving.
The Word Works
The Word Works has been providing free poetry programs and publishing fine books from its seat in Washington D.C. since 1974. In its early days, it received two grants from the NEA, one that helped launch the organization and another that allowed Betty Parry to collect histories of black intellectuals and writers living and working in the D.C. area. The fact that we were able to grow into a sturdy arts organization that is able to support itself without the help of the NEA is because of that early help.
Many such organizations got their start in this way, and, like us, have been able to foster the growth of professional writers and artists as well as of young talent in America. Our annual Young Writers competition shows that the need for such nourishment is great, and that the smallest amount of encouragement and support can lead to great things down the road. We publish up to ten full-length, prize-winning poetry collections per year; run two major reading series where voices from all backgrounds can meet and inspire; and host events and forums for our communities of thinkers and creators, which promote the success of all.
Writers in Schools
Writers in the Schools (WITS) has provided nearly half a million children with long-term literacy programs, thanks in part to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
WITS workshops are offered in schools during the school day and are free to the students. 95% of WITS students are considered low-income and attend Title 1 public schools. Through an 18-year outside evaluation, WITS has been proven effective in raising student standardized test scores, improving writing skills, increasing student confidence levels, and enhancing their creativity.
Between 2012 and 2017, NEA provided WITS $416,800 to deliver services to 8,867 at-risk young people, who spent a full year working with a professional writer. NEA funding was matched by school fees, private foundation grants, and earned revenue. This efficient use of taxpayer dollars adds tremendous value to public education.
WITS programs in Houston and across the nation allow students to learn the craft of writing with practicing, publishing authors. Every American child deserves this opportunity.
If you or your organization have benefited from the NEA’s enduring support, please share your story with LitNet!