In the Spotlight

Featuring AWP members who represent AWP’s mission to foster literary achievement, to advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and to serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.


  • Gianna Russo

    Gianna Russo

    Tampa, FL      Member Since: 2005

    “I ask students to think about what potters do: They throw a big, messy, unwieldy slab of clay on a wheel and then slowly start shaping it. ‘Lower your standards’ means be okay with that big slab of words. Don’t strive for perfection, just get the raw material on the page, get something down. Later you’ll start to shape. As Steve Martin said, ‘I think I did pretty well considering all I had when I started was a blank sheet of paper.’”

    About: Gianna Russo is the author of the poetry collection Moonflower, winner of a Florida Book Award. She is the founding editor of the Florida poetry chapbook publisher YellowJacket Press and Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University, where she directs the Sandhill Writers Retreat.

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  • Jeff Sirkin

    Jeff Sirkin

    El Paso, Texas      Member Since: 2006

    “We want our students to have the opportunity not just to listen to and buy the books of the visiting poets, but to talk to them, see in the writers we invite a possibility for themselves, to see in poetry not just the creation of pretty objects, but a living form of communication, exchange, activism, and an ongoing conversation of which they are already a part.”

    About: Jeff Sirkin grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he is the author of the poetry collection Travelers Aid Society (Veliz Books 2016). In addition to poetry, he writes on popular music and literature, and his work has appeared in Mandorla; Forklift, Ohio; Puerto del Sol; and elsewhere. Coeditor of the web journal A DOZEN NOTHING, he teaches in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas, El Paso, where he also cocurates the Dishonest Mailman Reading Series.

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Previously in the Spotlight


  • Ashley M. Jones

    Ashley M. Jones

    Birmingham, Alabama      Member Since: 2012

    “Since graduate school, I’ve made a point to surround myself with poets (and people) who are in the life-giving business. That means, poets who aren’t caught up in creating a flock of sheep who write exactly as they do. That means poets who are writing their authentic experience and who give space for others to do the same.”
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  • Elizabeth Austin

    Elizabeth Austin

    Newtown, Pennsylvania      Member Since: 2015

    “Writing is odd: it’s just putting words down on a page essentially, trying to get them just right. If I can do that and use that to connect with another human being and pull them out of any isolation they might be experiencing, then that’s everything to me.”
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  • Brian Kaufman

    Brian Kaufman

    Vancouver, Canada      Member Since: 2018

    “‘Balance’ is the key word, and I wish I were better at it… There is always something more you can do or try when trying to publicize and market the books. So, at some point I have to say, ok, enough, a bit of ‘me’ time now.”
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  • Natalia Sylvester

    Natalia Sylvester

    Austin, TX      Member Since: 2013

    “I think the question needs to shift and progress past asking POC authors to continually answer it. I'd love to see this question asked just as often to non-POC booksellers and literary journals, and then be taken several steps further: what are they actively doing not only to invite a more diverse community of writers, but to make their space one in which our community feels welcome, valued, and centered?”
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  • Brenda Hillman

    Brenda Hillman

    Moraga, California      Member Since: 2012

    “The adrenalin of happily creating first versions/drafts can’t be confused with finishing work you think will last and you will be proud of. I often will return to a poem over and over because it is not yet in the zone of its initiating impulse, but rather has been the product of false pride..”
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