Funding for creative writing students enrolled in Georgia State University’s graduate program has been extremely limited over the years―but an anonymous donor started a new chapter in the program’s history by creating a scholarship fund for students who show outstanding talent in their respective genres.

Since 2009, five students in the Department of English’s Creative Writing Program have been awarded $1,000 each to help ease the financial burden of being in graduate school.  Students don’t apply for the scholarship; they are selected by a team of advisors led by Josh Russell, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Creative Writing Program.

Josh Russell

Josh Russell

“The good thing about the scholarship is it helps us identify a student who really benefits from it [funding]and who has shown promise in their writing,” Russell said. “It allows young writers to focus on their art rather than thinking about how to pay for groceries.”

Selections are made based on a number of criteria, including the student’s grade point average, writing samples, student teaching evaluations and/or published work. Since its inception, the scholarship has been awarded to one student per year.  However, two individuals were selected for the 2012–13 academic year because of their exemplary work, a practice Russell says the department will continue every other year.

The donor is an alumnus of Georgia State who majored in English; he or she is also a published author who lives in Georgia.

Perhaps, that’s why the scholarship comes with no strings attached.  Students can use the money for whatever they choose―from travel to living expenses and books.

Kelly Neal didn’t even know the scholarship existed until she learned she was a recipient this school year.

“I was pleasantly surprised and pretty amazed,” she said.  “I was at work and started jumping up and down I was so excited.”

“Without things like this I wouldn’t be able to go into an M.F.A. program.  I’d be back at home working a job I hate,” said Neal, who is from Columbus, OH.

Neal, who is studying fiction, works at “Five Points,” Georgia State’s journal of literature and art, as a first reader of fiction. Receiving the scholarship will help her focus on her writing and school work without having to take an additional part-time job.

Mike Saye, whose genre is poetry, also received a Creative Writing Scholarship this year.

“It was fantastic, just a delight,” he said.  “As a graduate student I don’t have much money.  This helps tremendously to ease my mind.”

Like Neal, Saye hopes his M.F.A. leads to a publishing career and a teaching position at a college or university.  But for the time being, he’s thankful the scholarship will help him shave a few hours off his part-time job, so he can study more.

Benjamin Solomon

Benjamin Solomon

Benjamin Solomon, a Georgia State alumnus who earned an M.F.A. in creative writing in fiction in 2012, described the scholarship as an “incredible honor.”

The award enabled Solomon to take a month-long trip to Tarifa, Spain.  After graduation, he returned to his hometown of Salt Lake City where he works as an adjunct English professor at Salt Lake Community College.

“Sometimes fiction writing feels like a thankless field,” Solomon said.  “It’s easy to feel like you’re sending your work out into the void.  So to be recognized for achievement is really helpful and encouraging for a young writer.”

A story from Solomon’s thesis, “Who Cycles into Our Valley,” was published in the Fall 2011 issue of the literary journal “One Story.”

Georgia State University has one of the top creative writing programs in the country and attracts students from throughout the U.S. Faculty in the M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. programs are widely published, award-winning authors.

By: Alma Hill