College of Humanities

English Professor Martin Pousson Awarded NEA Fellowship

December 16, 2013

Martin PoussonImage: Jeffrey Zide
Visiting with English professor Martin Pousson over the space of an hour or two, a person may be struck by the steady stream of students who filter through his office. Some drop by for help with assignments, some are working on various functions for the student groups he advises, and some seem simply to seek out his office as a safe, welcoming space for LGBTQ students. Pousson, who teaches in the creative writing and queer studies programs, never fails to put students first, so it’s not surprising that he initially missed an important phone call from the National Endowment for the Arts because he was out celebrating a former student’s recent publication. Having returned home too late to call back, Pousson was unable to speak with the NEA rep until the following day, at which time he was thrilled to learn he had been selected to receive a 2014 Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose—one of only 38 honorees from among over 1,300 submissions. The awards were announced officially on December 11.

The fellowship includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant, provided through the federal Art Works program, intended to assist authors in devoting the resources necessary to further their craft. As a professor at a state university Pousson is responsible for a heavy teaching load, so the funds are essential in carving out time and space to write and edit his own creative work. With his 2014 fellowship, Pousson will be putting the finishing touches on Black Sheep Boy, a collection of interlocking short stories he has been working on for two years. While a novel was not his original intention, this series of stories had naturally started to take on that form, so during a planned fall 2014 sabbatical he will be structuring the stories’ flow and building the literary bridgework necessary to realize that vision.

Black Sheep Boy examines the coming of age of a young gay man of half-Cajun, half-Creole heritage. Like Pousson’s first novel, No Place, Louisiana, and his poetry collection, Sugar, Black Sheep Boy explores complex themes of personal dislocation, family dysfunction, and disintegrating culture—with significant focus on issues of bigotry toward racial and sexual minorities. Pousson, who spent his boyhood in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, writes thoughtfully about a certain strain of deep-south culture while taking care not to romanticize its trappings. Having grown up in the Cajun French bayou, he’s witnessed or experienced many of its uglier prejudices and limitations firsthand. But he also holds out hope for the resilience of individuals raised in conditions that threaten to squelch the spirits of black sheep. Pousson is delighted that the NEA Creative Writing Fellowship will allow him to bring Black Sheep Boy to full fruition. “Humans are narrative creatures at heart, so it’s great that a federal grant still values story telling,” he told the CSUN Today blog. “Narrative art intertwines with culture. It can’t be removed to a higher plane or examined from afar. We don’t often think of art and utility together, but story telling enacts both—it reveals people to each other and charges them to think.”

Elizabeth Say, dean of the College of Humanities, said, “Not only is Professor Pousson a great writer, he is a beloved teacher and mentor, and an excellent citizen of the university.”