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Willi Lee Kinard Discusses Winning the Ruth Lilly

So, first of all, let's congratulate you on that Ruth Lilly. We were actually talking with fellow winner Ariana Benson not too long ago, so can you tell us a little bit how did you find out that you were chosen? What was that phone call like?"

"Oh, okay. I wish this was a happier story. It was not. Oh my God.

I was not prepared for that, but okay. Um, I found out about two days before my grandmother passed that I had won. And it was really weird because I was on my way to the nursing home, and I got this call, and I'm like, 'Who the hell is this from a random number that I could not know?' And I'm like, 'I hope this isn't more book people. I'm tired of answering emails. I don't want to do any of this.' And then it is Chris Kazantis from Poetry Foundation saying, 'Hello, is this Willie?' I'm like, 'This is he. What's going on?' 'We just want to congratulate you from Poetry Foundation. We just want to congratulate you on winning the 2023 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.' I'm like, in my head, 'What in the world?' Presently, and like forward-thinking, I'm like, 'I don't have time to process this right now.' 'Thank you. Thank you so much for this kindness.' Yeah, I have no real questions. I'm in shock."

"Then about two hours later, I'm like screaming around."

"That's what Ariana was saying as well. I'm sorry about the circumstances from that.”

“It's a blessing. It's typical. It's tough. It's... I think I've been telling some of my... a few of my friends have been asking, like, 'What the hell did you do? You didn't say anything.' I'm like, 'I felt like I was on a personal NDA. Not telling myself, like, this happened. I'm not acknowledging it till I can breathe and, like, actually sit with it for a minute.' The other part, I think... I don't know if it's been... unfortunately convenient.

Tell me more about this.

“Like, one of my favorite people in the world technically left in the same space of that, like... I have enough to possibly consider, like, helping with her funeral arrangements. I have possibly enough to, like, reconsider not having to get a second and or third job. Formally, I have options now.

And I think the acquisition of that type of opportunity, like, on the fly, it's kind of like winning the lottery. You don't really plan for it. And so, like, in the same regards, it's like, 'Okay, I'm going to take a breath, take a beat, and see what happens.' So, I've been rolling with the punches thus far. Yeah. And I feel like, I mean, when we were... I think a lot of times, like, really good news, really great circumstances kind of clash with real life like that.

Did it feel like the space of the prize and the space of this accomplishment was kind of this outside thing that was happening? In part, I think mentally, I was preparing for book tour stuff or trying to gather book tour stuff, trying to mentally think about arrangements, whether or not I'm going to sing at my grandmother's funeral or not. And on the flip side of, like, thinking very much, like, Tashina Arnold via 'Everybody Hates Chris,' like, 'I don't need this. My man has two jobs.' My man, being, like, my bank account at the time. Listen, I'm like, 'I really don't need it enough, by the way.' Yeah. It's been affirming, humbling. Like, affirming in a really, really, like, kind of ironic and funny way."

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