Stanford lecturer earns fellowship from National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts recently awarded AUSTIN SMITH, a Jones lecturer in the English Department at Stanford, with a creative writing fellowship.

Austin Smith
Austin Smith

Smith, a former Wallace Stegner fellow, was one of 36 writers nationwide who received the 2018 Creative Writing Fellowship, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

The annual fellowship provides funding to support different types of writing. This year’s award, which gave $25,000 to each of the recipients, focused on supporting works of fiction and creative nonfiction.

Smith was selected from nearly 1,700 eligible applicants. He has written poems and short stories that have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Poetry Magazine, Yale Review and other publications. His first collection of poems, Almanac, was chosen for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. His next collection, Flyover Country, is scheduled to be published in 2018.

Smith has been at Stanford for more than six years, and he teaches courses in poetry, fiction, environmental literature and documentary journalism.

Smith said he was on the Stanford campus, struggling to make the copying machine work properly in order to print out materials for his class, when he got a call from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“It was a really heartwarming moment,” Smith said. “The person who called me was really, really excited. And in this particular year, with the NEA’s funding being threatened during the federal budget process, I felt very honored to receive this fellowship.”

Smith, who grew up on a family dairy farm in northwestern Illinois, holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a master’s degree from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s in fine arts degree from the University of Virginia.

Since 1967, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded more than 3,400 creative writing fellowships worth $46 million. Many American recipients of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Fiction were recipients of NEA fellowships early in their careers, according to the agency.

Smith said the fellowship will help fund his work on a novel about the rural Midwest, a subject he often writes about.

“I’m constantly fascinated with farmers and their life,” said Smith, whose father was a farmer and a poet. “Although my parents sold their farm in 2007, I continue to dwell on it in my imagination. For some reason, that’s the place I return to when I write.”