ASU student awarded prestigious Stegner creative writing fellowship

Hugh Martin, who will graduate from the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in creative writing at Arizona State University this spring, has received a prestigious Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University.

Stanford’s creative writing program, considered one of the most competitive in the country, awards only 10 fellowships each year (five in poetry, five in fiction) from an international pool of over 1,700 applicants.

Fellows are regarded as working artists, intent upon practicing and perfecting their craft. There are no curricular requirements other than workshop attendance and writing. The program offers no degree. Martin is one of five poets selected for the honor.

The two-year fellowship provides a stipend of $26,000 to each fellow per academic year and covers tuition and health insurance. The program allows writers to hone their skills while receiving guidance from Stanford’s distinguished creative writing faculty.

The fellowship program was named after celebrated writer and environmentalist Wallace Stegner in 1946. Anyone may apply, regardless of age, education, or experience. Admission is based solely on quality of writing samples.

“We choose people who are by now pretty well published and probably will either leave the program with a book and a contract or with a finished book. That’s what we expect. Many of the people who come here have already been in writing programs, already have their MFAs,” said Eavan Boland, director of the program, in a recent interview with The Stanford Review.

Martin becomes the second ASU student, and the first from the MFA program, to be selected for the honor. Arizona native Adam Johnson, who earned his undergraduate degree from ASU, was a Stegner fellow from 1999-2001 and currently serves on the creative writing faculty at Stanford.

“While the Stegner Fellowship provides Hugh a wonderful opportunity to continue to develop his poetry, it also speaks to the very fine work he’s done as a student here,” said Peter Turchi, director of creative writing and director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU. “He’s been a tremendous contributor to ASU’s creative writing community.”

The Stegner Fellowships were originally aimed at WWII-era returning servicemen. This is fitting for Martin, who served six years in the Army National Guard (based out of Stow, Ohio) and spent 11 months in Iraq in 2004. Most of Martin’s work is reflective of his experiences in Iraq.

“Some of my goals when writing involve exploring those aspects of war outside of actual fighting, attacks – all those things that come to mind when thinking of typical stories of war,” said Martin in a recent online interview with Willow Springs. “My goal was to make each section vivid and strong enough to give the reader a clear idea of what each soldier is like as a human being, and possibly what issues cross the soldiers’ minds regarding their own lives, outside of and away from the war.”

Martin, who was influenced by the poetry of Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, Randall Jarrell, Muriel Rukeyser, Denise Levertov, Yusef Komunyakaa, Bruce Weigl and Tim O'Brien, said the past three years he spent in ASU’s MFA program gave him the confidence to apply for the fellowship.

“The overall environment of the program was extremely beneficial to my writing life.  The feedback I've received these past three years from professors and peers has been absolutely crucial in polishing my work, diminishing bad writing habits, and overall, simply honing my writing and revising techniques,” he said. “Listening and participating in countless workshops, in the classrooms at ASU, and even on Global Fellowships in places such as Prague, I've been able to see my writing more objectively and in a way, detach myself from the personal experiences I'm writing from and simply do what's best for the individual poem.”

Martin will relocate to Palo Alto, Calif. later this summer and start the fellowship in September. He hopes to continue work on his current manuscript and possibly begin work on another.

“Stanford, much like ASU’s program, has a fantastic reading series and a great visiting writer program that can obviously keep that creative energy alive and introduce the fellows to new writers and philosophies,” said Martin.  “I hope to continue to be pushed and challenged by the writers and professors within the Stegner community.”

Martin is a native of Macedonia, Ohio and a graduate of Muskingum University. His poems have been published, or are forthcoming, in Consequence Magazine, The American Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, The Kenyon Review, Narrative, Willow Springs, Alaska Quarterly Review, Nashville Review, and Gargoyle. His chapbook, "So, How Was the War?" (Kent State UP, 2010) was published by the Wick Poetry Center. He has served as poetry editor of ASU’s acclaimed literary journal Hayden’s Ferry Review, and his work was recently selected as part of the 7th Avenue Streetscape Series in downtown Phoenix.

Ken Kesey workshopped his novel-in-progress One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest during his time at Stanford, and the fellowships have attracted many talented writers over its sixty-five year history. A partial list includes Raymond Carver, Philip Levine, ZZ Packer, Samantha Chang, Wendell Berry, Tobias Wolff, Robert Pinsky, Vikram Seth, and Scott Turow.

The following are two poems Martin submitted with his Stegner fellowship application.

This Morning, We Carry Body Bags,


brand-new, still sealed in plastic wrap,
pile them in the back of the truck.
The dip bulges from LTs lip and I imagine


bullets against the truck
like horizontal rain.
Before dawn,


four men shot
six Iraqi soldiers dead
as they slept on cots,
dragged outside the checkpoint hut


because it was too hot.
At the Jalula hospital, traffic stops. Men smoke
in white dishdashas that wave
in the wind like bed sheets. From the hills,


a Black Hawk rises. We close eyes,
cover faces, not wanting to feel
flying pieces of earth. Four men run


the first body to the chopper;
it bounces on the green gurney
beneath an IV bag held
by a hand to the sky.

After Curfew

            —Jalula Police Station

A black dog sniffs the bag of smashed tomatoes
beneath the blinking lamppost.
Daud, the bum with bandaged feet,
snores face-down on a piece of cardboard
beside the concertina wire that catches trash.
There hasn’t been a gunshot all night.
Inside, the drunk we put in the jail cell
vomits into a bucket.  The police don’t speak English,
so we smile, give the thumbs-up, and say good
as they point at our machine-guns, flashlights,
Night-Vision, and other equipment
they don’t have.  When there’s nothing left to point at,
two of them open the doors of a Nissan Jeep,
turn up the radio’s volume.
A Kurdish lute scratches
over a man’s singing voice, his pitch
somewhere between a cry and a scream.
Next to the black streams, under a lamp like a spotlight,
three police, slowly, begin to dance.  They lip-sync
through cigarettes, blow breaths of smoke at the sky,
hold their loaded Kalashnikovs
against their bodies, a hand on the butt,
a hand on the muzzle, and their feet shuffle,
their heads roll in slow circles;
they follow the rifle’s lead.