Erin Belieu, 2018 George Garrett Award Recipient

Erin Belieu

At the 2018 Annual Conference & Bookfair in Tampa, Florida, AWP awarded its George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature to Erin Belieu.

The award is given to recognize those individuals who have made notable donations of care, time, labor, and money to support writers and their literary accomplishments, and is named for George Garrett (1929–2008), who made exceptional contributions to his fellow writers as a teacher, mentor, editor, friend, board member, and good spirit. The award includes a $2,000 honorarium, in addition to travel, accommodations, and registration to attend AWP’s annual conference, where the award is publicly announced and conferred.

David Haynes, President of AWP’s Board of Trustees, introduced Belieu:

This year’s winner is a beloved poet, teacher, activist, and community-builder. She is the author of four books of poetry from Copper Canyon Press. Many writers are indebted to her for her support. In her nomination letter, Maggie Smith called her “a mentor… a confidant and cheerleader.”

Many other writers and students are similarly grateful for her advice, criticism, and encouragement. Our award recipient is a professor in the creative writing program at Florida State University. Helping so many writers at such a high level would be accomplishment enough, but our award recipient also works to help make our literary culture a better place for her fellow writers.

She is one of the cofounders of VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, which, as I suspect you know very well, is a forceful advocate for equity, fairness, and justice in our literary culture.
In 2016, she launched Writers Resist, which became #Write Our Democracy, a movement to restore truthfulness in our democracy. This movement facilitated literary protests in 110 cities last year.

It is with great admiration that AWP gives this year’s George Garrett Award to Erin Belieu.

After receiving the award, Belieu gave these remarks:

For someone who’s spent most of their adult life behind a podium in one way or another, I can’t claim to be very comfortable giving speeches. So my remarks are brief.

I’ll admit, the first thing I did after I got off the phone with Dave Fenza who’d called to share the lovely news that I would be receiving this honor, was to start laughing uproariously, and then immediately call my older brother. It’s been a running joke in my family for years that Dennis is the unchallenged king of citizenship awards—with a perfect record of shiny certificates stretching from kindergarten through his senior year, and up into the present moment.

My own certificate count up until today has been exactly zero. So yes, my brother had a good laugh, too.

Though, while he has typically gotten all the swag to show for his outstanding good behavior, I am regularly grateful to have been raised in a family where community service was such a large part of the fabric of our lives. And I am also grateful to have had parents who supported my own, sometimes necessarily thornier version of serving my community from an early age. “Put your money where your mouth is,” is something I heard from my father frequently as a kid, and it still seems generally good advice for us all. So, in a pre-VIDA-like gesture, when I organized the girls in my third grade class into protesting our gender-specific lack of access to what was referred to as the “boys playground,” and when my parents were called up to the principal’s office later that day to discuss their daughter’s rabble-rousing behavior, what great luck for me that, as always, my parents had my back, and were actually proud of me for my efforts.

Now when I look out at the audience here, I see so many who could just as easily be in my place receiving this award tonight; friends, colleagues, former students who’ve also had my back over the years as well; people who’ve given so much of their time, money, effort, and good counsel to either join me or lead me in trying to make our writing world the things it always has even more potential to be: more inclusive and diverse, safer, more vibrant and welcoming to new voices, an always growing and greater force of increasingly acknowledged legislators raising our voices through and for the beauty of the literary art we pursue together. Unfortunately, it seems the world has never needed you more. Thank you, friends, for all you do.

I want to thank my colleagues here AWP who’ve thought to bestow on me such a great and genuinely moving honor. And to the writers who wrote on my behalf, I will endeavor to be worthy of your kind evaluations. I have a few particular thanks to give as well: to Allison Joseph, a former Garrett Prize winner, who more than anyone showed me by example the beauty and necessity of expanding my philosophy to embrace a dynamic and intersectional view of feminism in the literary world—thank you for showing me that sometimes the most important way we lead is by listening; to Bob Shacochis and Askold Melnyczuk, both previous Garrett Award winners as well, and both generous mentors me in various ways when I was a youngster. That I should receive the same honor that they’ve received is very touching to me. To the poets Cate Marvin and Ann Townsend, my VIDA co-founders, comrades, and dear friends, thank you for the gift of your friendships. And finally, to the poet Keith Kopka, my Writers Resist co-conspirator, the sort of human being who doesn’t blink when you tell him you’ve roped him into helping you put on 110 simultaneous events worldwide with only two months lead time, thank you for being my partner in crime, for making me laugh, for yelling at me when the need arises, and for being one of the biggest reasons I am here receiving this great honor tonight.

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Each year, AWP welcomes nominations for the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature. Consult our award guidelines for more information. Award recipients are selected by AWP's Board of Trustees.