Indiana University Bloomington

IU English professor Adrian Matejka wins 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry

  • April 16, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University professor Adrian Matejka is a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for 2014 in poetry, the only IU faculty member this year to be named a winner of the prestigious award.

Matejka is an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of English at IU Bloomington. His poetry collection “The Big Smoke” (Penguin Poets/Penguin Group USA, 2013) was also a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, won the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Prize and was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award in poetry last fall.

“The Big Smoke” shares the story of legendary boxer Jack Johnson in the voice Matejka imagined for Johnson (1878-1946), the first African American heavyweight champion.

“These recognitions are wonderful affirmations for ‘The Big Smoke’ and Jack Johnson’s story,” Matejka said. “Even though the Guggenheim Fellowship is a career award, I imagine my inclusion with the 2014 Fellows was connected to the success of this book. So in many ways, each of those accolades points back to Johnson, as it should, since I wrote the book trying to bring his story into the contemporary dialogue of race and politics. It’s humbling and extraordinary at the same time. I imagine Johnson is some place right now laughing about it all.”  

This is Matejka’s third published poetry collection, after “The Devil’s Garden,” winner of the 2002 New York/New England Award from Alice James Books, and “Mixology,” which won the 2008 National Poetry Series and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. All three collections touch in some way on fundamental questions about race, masculinity and family, each in vastly different ways. Mixology explores “otherness” through hip-hop-style sampling, while “The Devil’s Garden” juxtaposes history and autobiography through Matejka’s own tri-racial identity.

Established in 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship Competition recognizes men and women in the United States, Canada and Latin America who have demonstrated an exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or creative ability in the arts. In 2013, five IU Bloomington professors in the College of Arts and Sciences were recipients of the Guggenheim Fellowship.

After graduating from IU Bloomington in 1995 with a double major in English and psychology, Matejka went on to earn his MFA at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He returned to Bloomington to teach as a visiting faculty member in 2012 and was offered an assistant professor position in the spring of 2013. He teaches courses in creative writing and English literature, including “Poetics of Rap,” a topics course that investigates American rap through a poetic lens. The class is offered through the Department of English.

About the author

Adrian Matejka is the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and fellowships from Cave Canem and the Lannan Foundation. His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry 2010, Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, Poetry and Prairie Schooner, among other journals and anthologies. He lives in Bloomington with his wife, poet and IU faculty member Stacey Lynn Brown, and their daughter.

Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka, an assistant professor in the Department of English at IU Bloomington, is a recipient of the 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship. | Photo by Taylor Cincotta

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