National Honors for Writers Marilyn Abildskov and Matthew Zapruder: NEA Fellowship and Finalist for National Book Critics Circle Awards

Abildskov is a 2024 Creative Writing Fellow with the National Endowment for the Arts. Zapruder is a finalist for the NBCC Awards for Autobiography.

by Jordan Sapp MFA ‘25 and Hayden Royster, Staff Writer | January 31, 2024

Saint Mary’s MFA in Creative Writing program offers its students the chance to learn from award-winning writers—and in recent days, two full-time faculty members earned recognition on a national scale.

Marilyn Abildskov has been selected as a 2024 Creative Writing Fellow with the National Endowment for the Arts. And poet Matthew Zapruder has been named as one of six finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards in Autobiography for his 2023 memoir, Story of a Poem.

“Eager to do a deep dive”

The NEA broke the news of Marilyn Abildskov’s fellowship last week. Abildskov has taught creative nonfiction in Saint Mary’s MFA program since 2003. She is the author of the travel memoirThe Men in My Country (University of Iowa Press, 2004), and her essays and short stories have appeared in Best American Essays, The Southern Review, Colorado Review, and the Sewanee Review. She is also the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award and the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award, among other honors. Along with teaching at SMC, Abildskov often returns to teach at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. 

Book cover for The Men in My Country by Marilyn Abildskov

The National Endowment for the Arts awards Creative Writing Fellowships every year, providing fellows $25,000 to give them the space to work on their craft. The program receives thousands of applications annually, and only 3% of applicants are awarded the fellowship. Applicants are reviewed anonymously, meaning that awardees are selected for their artistic and creative excellence alone. 

Abildskov says that she will apply the grant toward work on Newfound Facts, a short story collection set in Salt Lake City, Utah, following “in-between Mormons who are neither billionaires nor pioneers nor Instagram polygamists.” This collection explores various shades of belief and religiosity in contemporary society, and how the history of a place affects the people who live there, drawing upon her own experiences growing up in Salt Lake City. She’s “eager to do a deep dive” in this collection, she says, hoping to “grant each character what the writer Zadie Smith calls the ‘privilege of texture,’ or a full range of interiority, dignity, and frailty.” 

Read the titular short story “Newfound Facts” in the March 2019 issue of Story. 


“Resonance beyond the merely personal”

The National Book Critics Circle announced that Matthew Zapruder’s latest book is a finalist on January 25. The winners of the annual NBCC awards will be presented at the New School in New York City on March 21.

Cover of Matthew Zapruder's book Story of a Poem

Zapruder has taught poetry at Saint Mary’s for over a decade. He is the author of five collections of poetry, including Father’s Day and Come On All You Ghosts, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. A Guggenheim recipient and the editor of Best American Poetry 2022, Zapruder also serves as editor-at-large for Wave Books. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, The Believer, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. 

“Writing is always an act of intimacy and hope, and one never knows how it will work out.”
—Matthew Zapruder

In Story of a Poem, Zapruder compares the painstaking process of crafting a poem with his own evolution as a son, husband, and father, living amidst a pandemic and the Anthropocene era and its consequences. The book joins five other autobiographies on the National Book Critic Circle Award shortlist—a sliver of the hundreds of personal narratives published last year. “It was a particularly rich year for autobiography,” said autobiography chair May-lee Chai in the award announcement. “Each book on the shortlist changed the way we viewed the world in some fundamental way.”

For Zapruder, receiving a nomination for a work borne of “personal necessity” is incredibly humbling. “Writing is always an act of intimacy and hope, and one never knows how it will work out,” he says. “I’m quite gratified that the book would be chosen by a panel of our finest critics as a finalist for this award, because it means to me that the book has a resonance beyond the merely personal.”

Writer Matthew Zapruder in the classroom with creative writing students
Poet and teacher: Matthew Zapruder and MFA students / Photo by Gerry Serrano

Heartbeat of the Creative Writing Program

Saint Mary’s Creative Writing program is distinctive in its balance of core permanent faculty and a rotating cohort of renowned visiting writers who infuse the community with new voices, styles and sensibilities. What's unique about Zapruder and Abildskov, according to MFA Director Chris Feliciano Arnold, is that they support students for the duration of their studies at SMC.

"Marilyn and Matthew are the heartbeat of our program," says Arnold. "They illuminate the writing process for students by showing them what it looks like to sustain a creative practice over time. These awards from the NEA and NBCC recognize the depth of that commitment.”

APPLY TODAY: Applications for the Fall 2024 MFA Program are open until February 2, 2024. Contact Chris Arnold and Collin Skeen for more information. 

READ MORE: Making Meaning as Veterans and Writers

Saint Mary’s Visiting Writer Series: A Chance for MFA Students to Learn from Literary Luminaries