Eleni Sikélianòs on Why the NEA Matters
“I got my first NEA fellowship when I was 30 years old, in 1995. It was an incredible gift, as if from the gods, and I think it’s fair to say it changed my life. With the fellowship, I was able to live in Paris for a year and write and read and walk, with no other obligations. From that time came my first full book with a nationally distributed publisher, Earliest Worlds, which was a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award and an Academy of American Poets Book Club pick. In that time also I read some of the French writers who would become seminal to my expanded notion of genre, most notably Proust and Lautréamont. Poems from that book have since been translated into French, Spanish, Polish, Romanian, and Greek.
I received my second NEA fellowship just a few years ago, and it has helped me begin a new book tracing our evolutionary debts to other animals, as well as to work on inter-genre work (film-poems and poem-installations) in a way I would never have had the leisure to without the time the NEA afforded me.
How many people has this impacted? I couldn’t say (and it’s not always in the nature of poetry to brag about its achievements in the world), but I think it’s fair to estimate that one NEA fellowship impacts thousands, in various ways, and that even from a book of poetry, a small market economy arises. More importantly, however, one NEA fellowship contributes to an ever-expanding cultural economy, one of our greatest national products, if that’s the way we want to count it. And if for 46¢ a year (or, in monthly terms, 4¢) each taxpayer can be a small arts god, what’s the problem?”