U. Poets receive awards

Two women at Penn were awarded the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for poetry, 2002.

The Daily Pennsylvanian
June 13, 2002

Two women at Penn were awarded the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for poetry

Kelly Writers House Acting Director Teresa Leo and former English graduate student Mytili Jagannathan were two of the twelve recipients of the $50,000 Pew Fellowship in the Arts this year.

Both women were selected from over 150 applicants of the 2002 fellowship for poetry.

The fellowship is meant to give artists a chance to exclusively focus working on their art, since many artists have a full-time job and work full-time on their pieces of art as well.

"It feels like a miracle," Leo said.

Leo has been a writer ever since she started inscribing words with chunks of coal on the concrete floor of her grandparent's basement. By now, she has had many published and even written some creative non-fiction essays.

"For poetry, I'm interested in more introspective topics -- the more raw and gritty side of human nature and human sexuality from a personal perspective," Leo said. "In non-fiction, I tend to gravitate toward themes that revolve around place."

Jagannathan also writes about sexuality, but her poems raise political and aesthetic questions as well.

"She's intense. She's a poet like Emily Dickinson -- with the same concerns about identity, sexual identity and the problems women face with poetry," Professor of English and Writers House Faculty Director Al Filreis said.

Filreis believes that these two women reflect the diversity of the Pew fellowships, since Leo and Jagannathan's experiences as writers vary.

"Teresa is an established writer and Mytili has just broken through," Filreis said.

"This is a big break -- this is a big thing [for Mytili]," Filreis added, since Mytili is considered a young poet.

"The great thing about these fellowships is that it mostly enables you to take off time from other obligations and focus on your art, your writing," Leo said.

However, for some artists, the amount of money rewarded is not the best aspect of the fellowship.

"You may think the money is what is so great about this fund, but what the artist wants, or what I want is to know that my work has appeal or value," Leo said.

Whether the validation or the funding is the best part of the fellowship, everyone wants to know how each artist will spend the money.

Leo wants to use the grant to complete her first full length collection of poems.

"My project is to complete a first full-length collection of poetry... I have a chapbook coming out soon and I'll add poems to the book to complete the collection," Leo said.

However, she is also planning on returning to her former job as a full-time technical writer for Information Systems and Computing at Penn.

As for Jagannathan, she wants to not only move forward with her writing, but to pursue many other hobbies as well.

"I plan to finish my first book; as for the rest, my dream is to read a lot, learn at least three languages, travel, write every day, talk more with poets and start a political magazine," Jagannathan said.

"I've never even conceived of living primarily as a poet before, so the chance to do that will entail a pretty radical shift for me," she added.

Each year The Pew Fellowship in the Arts -- a program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by The University of the Arts -- awards twelve artists that work in twelve different artistic disciplines.

In order to qualify for the grant, applicants have to be over 25 years of age and must have lived in one of five Philadelphia counties for at least two years.

The three categories are reviewed annually and the twelve rotate on a four-year cycle. This year, fellowships were awarded to artists of Performance Art, Poetry, and Sculpture and Installation.