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Furman English Professor Joni Tevis awarded National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

(Ed. note: Consider this submission, with its rich context, an addendum to this story on The Hub last week.)


Joni Tevis, the Bennette E. Geer Associate Professor of English at Furman University, has been awarded a 2020 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

The NEA selected only 36 Fellows from a pool of nearly 1,700 applicants – just over 2 percent. The individual fellowships are valued at $25,000 and enable the recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel and general career advancement.

Fellows are selected through an anonymous process and are judged on the artistic excellence of the work sample provided.

Tevis earned the honor for her work of prose, “What the Body Knows,” found in the book, The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse, a collection of her writings published in 2015 by Milkweed Editions.

“What the Body Knows” draws from Tevis’ journey with her spouse and a guide up the Canning River in the northeast reaches of Alaska, where, she says in her essay, there’s “no road but the river, and two weeks to reach the edge of the world.” The Canning flows 125 miles through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and spills into Camden Bay, which is fed by the Arctic Ocean.

Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the NEA, said, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support our nation’s writers, including Joni Tevis, and the artistry, creativity and dedication that go into their work.”

Tevis says she is grateful to Furman for supporting her work and trips into the wild, and she says the fellowship did not come easily. For writers who have met rigorous publishing requirements in prose, the fellowship is offered every other year from the NEA. Tevis has applied seven times since 2007.

“I’m so honored and humbled by this fellowship,” Tevis said. “I ask my students, as I ask myself: ‘What would you write if you knew you could not fail?’ I treasure this ‘yes’ after the six rounds of ‘no,’ but the ‘noes’ were useful too, because they spurred me on. We must never give up.”

Tevis will apply the fellowship funds toward her next sabbatical, where she’ll finish her current book manuscript –“a book of nonfiction about creation, destruction and the music that sees us through,” she said.

A winner of multiple awards, Tevis has been published in Oxford American, the Bellingham Review, Shenandoah, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and Orion, a literary journal focused on environmental themes, and where “What the Body Knows” also appeared.

Formerly a park ranger, factory worker and purveyor of cemetery plots, Tevis teaches literature and creative writing at Furman and is the author of another acclaimed book of essays, The Wet Collection: A Field Guide to Iridescence and Memory (2012, Milkweed Editions), her first book of nonfiction.

She came to Furman in 2008 after serving as the Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She helped create the English department’s new writing track, which offers courses in nonfiction, fiction and poetry writing.

Tevis holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and advanced degrees from the University of Houston.


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