GVSU writing professor receives prestigious literary fellowship

Amorak Huey awarded $25,000 grant for poetry by National Endowment for the Arts

By Emily Doran | 1/11/17 8:22pm

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Professor Amorak Huey poses for a photo inside his office at 336 Lake Ontario Hall on Grand Valley's Allendale campus on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Huey recently received a prestigious creative writing fellowship in poetry, accompanied by a $25,000 grant.
by Kevin Sielaff and Kevin Sielaff / The Lanthorn

Any professional writer knows it can take years and hundreds of submissions to get published, let alone receive national recognition for their work.

Some writers, though, manage to achieve both milestones and more.

Amorak Huey, assistant writing professor at Grand Valley State University, was recently awarded a prestigious $25,000 creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). He was one of 37 poets selected from more than 1,800 applicants to receive the fellowship.

The NEA awards literature fellowships yearly, alternating between published fiction and nonfiction writers and poets. Huey, who had previously applied for the fellowship, was shocked to learn he had won.

“I got a phone call in November,” he said. “The first time was from a D.C. area code. (I) didn’t even answer it because it was just after the election, and I thought it was somebody asking for a donation or something. (It) was a big surprise. I was not expecting it at all.”

To compete for the fellowship, Huey had to submit 10 pages of poetry. 

“This time, I just sent poems that I liked,” Huey said. “Before, I would be (trying) to guess what the judges are going to like and I (realized) I have no idea what the judges are going to like, so I sent some of my favorites. Most of them had been published. A couple of them were newer poems that had not yet been published.”

Huey said receiving the fellowship felt like a validation of his hard work as a writer.

“It’s a real affirmation of the work that I’ve been doing,” he said. “When you write poetry or create any kind of art, you send it out in the world and you hope it lands somewhere, but you don’t always really know. And this is a message that yeah, some of it is working."

Caitlin Horrocks, associate writing professor at GVSU, reiterated the implications of receiving this prestigious fellowship for both Huey and the writing department at large.

“There’s lots of writers who apply like clockwork every time they’re eligible their entire lives and never get selected just (because there are) thousands of applications for a handful of slots,” she said. “To get this kind of encouragement from an entity like the National Endowment for the Arts with a really nice big check attached is really exciting.

“(Huey is) a fantastic poet, and he has earned (this fellowship) and deserved it all on his own, but I think it does reflect on the type of writing community we have here, the type of faculty, the type of department.”

Huey said the grant will give him time to focus on his writing and attend writers’ conferences and retreats.

“I think the big thing that I would like to spend the money on is doing some traveling to go to readings and to perform my work, which is costly and it takes time,” Huey said. “And also there’s writers’ retreats and conferences that I would like to go to. (The) grant allows me to (make) those applications.”

Huey said the grant will also give him time to focus on publishing more of his work.

“I have two poetry manuscripts that I’m revising and sending out in hopes of getting a new book, and this grant will help me have the time to do that,” he said.

Huey’s previously published work includes the 2015 poetry collection “Ha Ha Thump” and the 2014 chapbook “The Insomniac Circus.” Both Huey and Horrocks will be presenting excerpts of their work Tuesday, Jan. 31, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Cook-DeWitt Center as part of the Grand Valley Writers Series.

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