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FSU Professor Barbara Hurd Wins NEA Fellowship, L.A. Times Ranking

Frostburg State University English professor Barbara Hurd was informed on Tuesday, Dec. 11, that she had been chosen for a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, one of 36 awarded this year from some 1,300 applicants. The Fellowship's main feature is a $20,000 cash award, designed to give the fellow the freedom to write.

A day or two later, she got a call from her publisher, Beacon Press, telling her that her book, "Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs and Human Imagination," had made the Los Angeles Times list of the Best Books of 2001 out of the 1,300 the newspaper's reviewers had considered over the past year.

All in all, it was a good week for Barb Hurd. Hurd is most excited about the NEA award for creative nonfiction. "It's one of the most coveted fellowships out there, and it's highly competitive," she said. She shares the list with author Jonathan Franzen, who created a sensation recently when he criticized his selection to Oprah Winfrey's book club list.

One of the biggest advantages Hurd sees in the fellowship is there is no obligation to produce something at the end of the one-year fellowship period. "It's designed to free you up so you can continue to do good work," she said.

According to the NEA, the program's goal is to encourage production of new work by affording artists the time to write. Simultaneously, the fellowships give writers national recognition and invaluable validation of their talent. The NEA has awarded $38 million over the past 35 years to 2,400 writers.

Hurd will have something to show for her time, since she is already at work on a collection of essays on caves, for which she has a book contract with a December 2002 deadline.

Hurd admits to being overcome by the news of the fellowship. The caller from NEA was trying to give her information about the competition's judges, "but I was weeping and blubbering and couldn't really hear," she said. That was after she hung up on the caller the first time because of a bad connection.

"It was such an important message, and it wouldn't go through," she said.

It is still being determined how the fellowship will change Hurd's schedule at FSU, she said.

PAs for the L.A. Times, her book's inclusion on its best of 2001 list will probably provide more visibility. "They and the New York Times are the big reviewers of books," she said.

The Times concluded that, out of more than 1,200 books considered, its reviewers reserved their highest praise for 82 novels and short story collections, 23 children's books, 25 mysteries and thrillers, 10 poetry titles, 13 books on the West and 85 works of nonfiction, of which "Stirring the Mud" was one. Their list and a condensed review can be read on the L.A. Times Web site at, clicking on the "books" link, then click on "Best Books of 2001."

As for Hurd, she'll finish the year by grading exams, then she'll think about what's ahead.

For further information on this release, contact:

Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

Telephone: 301-687-3171
Fax: 301-687-7589