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WMU professor wins coveted Guggenheim Fellowship

April 21, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A Western Michigan University faculty member has been awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to write poetry.

Dr. William Olsen, professor of English, is one of 186 artists, scholars and scientists awarded 2005 Guggenheim Fellowships out of the more than 3,000 who applied. Decisions are based on recommendations from hundreds of expert advisors and are approved by the foundation's board of trustees. Winners were officially announced April 7.

Olsen says he is very excited about being named a Guggenheim Fellow.

"I'm delighted with receiving this honor," Olsen says. "It's what every writer wants the most--free time to write. Beyond that, recognitions of this sort are few and far between. It's a little humbling, actually."

The fellowship and $50,000 cash award that it carries will let Olsen concentrate on writing for up to a year.

"The idea is that you get funding to create a block of time to better concentrate on the creative process," Olsen says. "But I don't have exact plans yet."

Olsen is nearly finished with a project he is currently working on and will probably use his fellowship to begin a new project.

"I have no inkling whatsoever what I'll write about per se," he says. "So I will probably do what I always do before writing seriously and that is reading seriously."

Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded based on past achievement and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. The fellowships are grants, this year totaling $7,112,000, to selected individuals to help provide them with blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible. The fellowships represent some of the most competitive awards made in the arts and humanities. Past winners include Joyce Carol Oates, Ansel Adams, Henry Kissinger, Eudora Welty, Vladimir Nabokov and Langston Hughes.

What distinguishes the Guggenheim Fellowship program from others is the wide range in interest, age, geography and institution of those it selects as it considers applications in 79 different fields from the natural sciences to the creative arts. Fellows include writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, choreographers, physical and biological scientists, social scientists, and scholars in the humanities.

Recognition of this sort is great news for the WMU Department of English and the University as a whole, especially when considering the wide-ranging competition for fellowships, says Dr. Arnie Johnston, English department chairperson. Olsen joins Stuart Dybek as WMU English professors to be named Guggenheim Fellows. Dybek won his award in 1981. Fellow WMU faculty member Dr. Catherine Julien, associate professor of history, also won a Guggenheim in 2003.

"It's wonderful news," Johnston says. "Like all wonderful news, it has a downside, though, because we're going to lose him for a year. But ultimately it's of great value to the department and students and faculty, too. I think it underscores what a lot of people around the country have been noting for years, that we are absolutely one of the top creative writing programs in the country, and our faculty and students are our main strength."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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