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How To Apply For A Ruth Lilly (part 2)

We're talking more with Willie Lee Kinard III; tell us about your experience applying for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent

The first time I applied to the Ruth Lilly, I didn't know what the hell was going on. I followed the requirements. They said 10 pages. They said you get, like, a hundred words for an artist statement.

What do I know about an artist statement? Nothing. What can I tell you about my poems? They're country. There might be a snake in it. There's probably a bird. And I think, as years kind of went on and I, started hearing more people talk about the possibilities of it, the circumstances and the requirements kind of shifted. Like, it went from being, 150 or 200 or 200-word artist statements to a full page possibly about your poetics and things. Most recently, it's a transition from a grant or transition towards a grant system.

And I think I applied on the very last day. I think I almost did not get my application completed in time. And I think I riffed on my answers to parts of the application, because I'd been answering things like that for a couple of years at this point. And I gave completely new work that nobody had written or had read. Nothing that felt like anybody of my friends were releasing. And I was like, 'I'm... I'm... I turned 31 this year. This is, my next-to-last year to kind of give it a go. Let's see what happens. Do I best, leave the rest?' And lo and behold, a phone call about three months later."

That's so interesting that you kind of broke so many other conventions in terms of, 'I'm gonna apply to the last day,' in terms of, 'I'm gonna send this, like, fresh work.' I love that. So cool.

It is scary too. I think... I think after two or three years of applying, because I applied every year I was in grad school, in the year after the... I think I sat with the fact of, like, 'What is it that I want to say?' And who possibly could know me for these things? And, like, in what capacity does Poetry Foundation already know me? I was a finalist in 2020, which was slightly controversial of a year for, like, both public things for publishing in general, alongside the pandemic. And there was a large list of finalists that year. I think there were 22. Five folks got selected for the fellowship.


But it got me a decent bit of attention from some poetry-related people. They gave us, or Poetry Foundation invited us to send in poems for Poetry Magazine. I sent in, I want to say, like, about five or so. And they picked two of my better ones. And later that year, they got selected for the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize for 2021, which is also weird, because it's their biggest prize for the magazine per year. And it doesn't quite make sense. And I'm like, 'What is happening with my life?' It's like, 'I'm... I'm right at the moment of, like, this going right. And that's not necessarily going great. But stuff is working.

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