Trimble awarded National Endowment of the Arts Creative Arts Fellowship


Dr. Jacqueline Trimble

Christine Shelton, Editor-in-Chief

Alabama State University’s Jacqueline Trimble, Ph.D., the chair of the Department of Languages and Literatures, was recently the recipient of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Creative Writing Fellowship.

According to the website, the NEA grants awards to nonprofit organizations, creative writers and translators, state arts agencies, and regional arts organizations in support of arts projects across the country. Their creative writing fellowship programs offer $25,000 grants in prose and poetry.

“The National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship applications are only open every other year, and they generally represent the next step in a poet’s career after he or she publishes a significant number of poems or a poetry book, etc. I think it is also an award that leads to other opportunities. Because the poetry fellowship applications were being accepted in 2020, I decided to apply,” Trimble said, explaining the reason behind her submission. 

While Trimble submitted her work with hopes of taking the next step in her poetry career, she never imagined she would be one of the few recipients of the fellowship.

“I feel amazed, astonished, shocked, humbled… I never thought I would get it. When the woman from the National Endowment for the Arts called me last November, it ran through my mind that I was being punked or something. The winners were sworn to secrecy, so we couldn’t tell until we got the word in February, and then the letter came, and it was official,” Trimble said.

The process in choosing the winning manuscripts is entirely anonymous, so all submissions should be free of the writer’s names or any other identifying marks. Before one can apply, he or she must be a published writer of a book or have several poems published in various journals.

“You have to apply through, and you have to send a manuscript in, stripped of your name of any identifying marks because the submission process is blind. A panel composed of mostly nationally known poets and a community person chooses from the submitted manuscripts. Of the manuscripts submitted, there were 1,601 which were eligible, and out of those manuscripts, they chose 35, or the top 2% to award the $25,000 grants to.”

One of Trimble’s acclaimed published works, American Happiness, is a collection of poetry, which earned the 2016 Balcones Poetry Prize and is currently a part of the curriculum for some of the Introduction to Literature courses at the university. American Happiness is a dissection of the “American Dream” and how everyone wants the world to be versus how the world truly is.

 “A lifetime of living in America as a Black woman inspired that book. It is about the way we prefer America to the America that actually exists. For me, this is the source of American happiness. We love Disney World, the happiest place on earth. The problem is everything is fake,” Trimble said, reflecting on her purpose of the book. “I write from a place of irony, a sardonic sense of humor, and a desire to have people take another deeper look at what is happening. Art has the power to change people because art can say what matters in a way that invites people in to listen.”

The Tuskegee, Ala. native started teaching at the university when she was 24 years-old as an English developmental professor and worked in the writing lab in William Paterson Hall. Since then, she has taught several literature courses at her alma mater Huntingdon College and Alabama State. 

Trimble’s love of English started early in age and only expanded throughout the duration of her professional career. 

“I have known I wanted to be an English professor since I was about 16. I fell in love with words early, and I really wanted to be a writer, but I figured being a professor would be a way to support myself. I had a knack for computer programming and was actually recruited out of undergrad school to work for a company. If I had done that, I would probably be rich now, but I wouldn’t be happy. Reading and writing make me happy. Learning new things from literature makes me happy.”

Although Trimble has several responsibilities as a full-time professor of English and department chair, she hopes to take some time off to focus on her writing. 

“I hope to take some time off from work to write, go to some writing conferences, workshops, and residencies, upgrade my website and official pictures, and maybe contribute to turning one of my poems, “The Language of Joy,”  into a short film,” Trimble said. “I am hoping this National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship will allow more concentrated time to write away from my teaching and chairperson duties. Right now, I’m working on a novel, some television treatments, and finishing my latest collection of poetry, How to Survive the Apocalypse.”

While Trimble is used to recognition for her writing, being awarded the NEA Fellowship has encouraged her in a different way, giving her the push needed to keep at her dream. 

“It is such an honor. It means my peers have chosen me as producing work that is worthy of attention. It means the National Endowment for the Arts wants to encourage me to continue writing. Sometimes, we begin to think of ourselves and our work as having no value, and then this comes along and says you have significance and your work matters in the world. I feel seen and encouraged. It’s a great feeling.”

Trimble understands the significance of this fellowship and plans to take full advantage of this opportunity. For any aspiring authors and writers, her main piece of advice is to read as much as one can.

“To anyone who wants to be a writer, the best thing you can do is read all the great books you can, write as often as you can, and learn to take criticism from good readers.”