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Department of English
University of Mississippi

Two UM Master’s Graduates Selected for Poetry Fellowships

Both recipients to attend literary gatherings in June


Samyak Shertok

Samyak Shertok

Two University of Mississippi graduates of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program have been selected to participate in prestigious fellowship programs in poetry.

Both Samyak Shertok, of Kathmandu, Nepal, and Jan Verberkmoes, from Roseburg, Oregon, graduated May 12, earning high praise from faculty members and administrators in the UM Department of English.

Shertok has accepted the Emerging Writer Fellowship from Aspen Words, while Verberkmoes, also a Grisham fellow in the English department, has accepted a fellowship from the Trans-Atlantic Summer Institute on “Transforming Environments in Europe and North America: Narratives, Histories, Cultures.”

“This is a huge accomplishment for both Samyak and Jan,” said Derrick Harriell, assistant professor of English and African American studies, and director of the M.F.A. program. “We couldn’t be more proud. Both students have exhibited excellence in and outside the classroom so it’s befitting that they’ve received these prestigious recognitions.”

Ann Fisher-Wirth, UM professor of English, has worked closely with both students, directing each of their theses.

“They came up with the ideas for their thesis, but I am helping them with their manuscripts,” Fisher-Wirth said.

Shertok was among 10 selected from 180 nominations for the Emerging Writer Fellowship.

“I am very grateful for the judge(s) at the Aspen Words who saw some promise in my work,” Shertok said. “I am very grateful to my mentor, Ann Fisher-Wirth, for nominating me and going over my writing sample with me, and to Melissa Ginsburg for her incredible feedback on my writing sample.

“This fellowship feels to me like a lovely treat for completing my M.F.A. But simultaneously I feel the great pressure to continue growing even more as a poet in order to honor this blessing.”

Shertok’s past achievements include awards such as a Northern Greece International Fellowship, the Mayhew Short Story Prize, the Bondurant Prize in Poetry and the Grand Prize in the Three-Minute Thesis Competition at Ole Miss. He also performed his poetry about his parents and the ongoing immigration crisis in Europe during the TEDxUniversityOfMississippi.

The fellowship allows Shertok to attend the annual Summer Words literary gathering, set for June 17-22 in Aspen, Colorado.

Jan Verberkmoes

Jan Verberkmoes

Verberkmoes writes primarily eco-poetry, which focuses on the environment. She is working on a series of German- and English-language hybrid poems about the bird specimens that American zoologist Brooke Dolan II and German SS officer and zoologist Ernst Schäfer collected over the course of three natural history expeditions to Tibet in the 1930s.

The highly competitive 2018 Trans-Atlantic Summer Institute on “Transforming Environments in Europe and North America: Narratives, Histories, Cultures” is run by the Center of German and European studies. The fellowship runs June 18-29 at the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities.

“I am beyond thrilled to be given this opportunity,” Verberkmoes said. “Getting to spend two weeks working with a faculty and group of students whose research interests could not be more germane to the concerns that my manuscript takes up will be incredibly enriching for my project.”

The UM creative writing program covers poetry and fiction, featuring both short stories and novels. The program accepts only eight students each year: four poets and four fiction writers. The entire creative writing M.F.A. program has fewer than 25 students, and the sought-after program is ranked among the top 10 in the nation.

Having two poetry students awarded such notable fellowships reflects the level of talent being accepted into the program, as well as the successful approach of the instructors in the M.F.A. program and the English department as a whole, Fisher-Wirth said.

“We really encourage a huge diversity in voices,” she said. “We are giving students the freedom to come up with their own craziest and creative ideas, and then we help our students realize them.”