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Monday March 19, 2001

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UA creative writing prof wins $20,000 poetry fellowship

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Creative writing professor Boyer Rickel revises his poetry at his office Sunday. Rickel recently received a fellowship for poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.

By Shana Heiser

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Boyer Rickel may use money to take time off, concentrate on writing

Boyer Rickel finally achieved one of his dreams when he was awarded a $20,000 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"I have applied before, so it was thrilling to be accepted," said Rickel, a UA creative writing professor and undergraduate adviser. "My reaction was total amazement and a great deal of excitement."

Though Rickel said he would like to buy time off from some of his administrative work - he is also assistant director of the creative writing program - he has not yet decided exactly how he will use the money.

"Maybe I'll have it worked out by summer," Rickel said. "Most people take time off to concentrate on their writing."

Only 40 writers - 34 in poetry and six in translation of poetry - received the Literature Fellowship this year, after nine poets judged more than 1,200 applicants' work in a massive reading.

"You submit a 10-page manuscript of poems, anonymously, and they (the judges) rank them," he said. "They reread them and reconsider and end up choosing a group."

Because artists are required to submit their current work to the NEA, Rickel said he tried to select poems reflecting where he was headed in his writing.

"I chose poems that were unusual for me at the time, but that (reflected) where I've gone in the past year," Rickel said. "I've moved from writing personal lyric to writing poems that are more meditative and reflective."

Every artist must move in a fresh direction imaginatively, Rickel said, which prompted him to go into a "spell of writing" after submitting his poems.

"It's an ongoing struggle to freshen your interest in work and to not repeat yourself," he said.

The NEA awards fewer fellowships than it used to after a conservative wave against public funding of art, Rickel said.

"All artists, except writers, were cut from the program," he said. "It was really sad - it was all for political reasons. Writers somehow held on through efforts of lobbying."

Still, the NEA alternates years that poets and non-fiction writers can vie for fellowships.

"(Money) is a little harder than it used to be - or should be - to get," Rickel said.

Along with the $20,000 fellowship, the NEA said the grant program gives writers "national recognition and invaluable validation of their talent to peers, agents, publishers and presenters around the country."

Rickel's most recent book of autobiographical essays, "Taboo," was published in spring 1999 by the University of Wisconsin Press. His first book of poems, "arreboles," was published by the Wesleyan University Press.