MFA Graduate Liz Breazeale Wins NEA Creative Writing Fellowship

Liz Breazeale

Photo Credit: Stephanie Michelle Photography

Liz Breazeale, a 2015 graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program specializing in fiction, recently won a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. The $25,000 grants are offered on a two-year cycle, and are intended to support prose and poetry writers in their writing—including for research, travel, and other opportunities.

Liz generously agreed to a short interview about the fellowship and her current projects. Responses have been lightly edited.

What have you published since graduation?

For most of the time, until about 2018, I worked on turning my thesis into a story collection. I won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize for that, and it came out in September 2019. The collection is called Extinction Events. There are 11 stories, and it centers on the theme of extinction.

I worked to kind of tie the natural world and the geologic processes and the cycles that the planet has gone through and continues to go through, and tied that to humanity and the everyday extinctions that we go through in our own lives, whether that’s grieving or the loss of a relationship or being estranged. Extinction Events was published by University of Nebraska Press.

I would love to plug the BGSU MFA program, because it’s where I wrote like half of the stories in my first collection. It’s a really fantastic, supportive, paid program, which is important!

What are you working on now?

Since last year, I’ve been working on the collection that I got the NEA grant for, which is a second short story collection that I think I’ve been calling feminist body horror. I’m hoping this collection will be unique enough to help me find an agent at some point. I would like to get it published well, and I think getting the NEA doesn’t hurt.

A lot of the stories in this collection that I’ve ben writing right now are dealing with a lot of anger. They’re very angry and my hope is that the time is right for that kind of thing, because it’s something I think is valuable and I think a lot of women identify with. I just want it to be able to add to the conversation in a positive way.

What is the application process like for the NEA Creative Writing Fellowship?

The grant alternates every year, so one year poets can apply and the next year prose can apply. You apply in either year, whenever you have something for that specialty. It’s free to apply. It’s more straightforward than you would think for a government grant!

Basically, you submit a work sample, up to 20 or 25 pages of whatever you want to use the grant to work on, and it’s all judged blind. They give you a small amount of space to talk about what your project is, but they do base it a lot on the work.

Applications are due pretty close to the beginning of the year, and I found out in November. However, the news is embargoed. We weren’t really sure when the announcement would be permitted—last year, they couldn’t announce it until February.

Now that you have the Fellowship, what comes next?

You can take the money over one year or two, and I opted for two. Since I work a full time job, it’s not really an option for me to quit my job—but the grant will definitely allow me to take some unpaid leave when I want to write. It will allow me to travel and do some research, and it will allow me to do writing residences, to physically pay for things so I can take the time to write.

More than anything, I’m excited about this giving me the gift of time.

Where can people find out more about your work?

Extinction Events is available from your local library, the University of Nebraska Press, or bookstores. I also have some pieces coming out this spring, from Kenyon Review Online, New Ohio Review, and Hayden’s Ferry.

You can also find links to other stories on my website, lizbreazeale.com