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BYU professor-poet receives Guggenheim fellowship

Kimberly Johnson, a poet and associate professor of English at Brigham Young University, recently received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in its 87th annual competition. A resident of Salt Lake City, Johnson was one of 180 recipients selected from a diverse group of nearly 3,000 scholars, artists and scientists to receive the prestigious grant.

“I’m pleased, certainly, to have my work supported in such a tangible fashion,” said Johnson, “and even more pleased to know that the work I do in the hermetic solitude of my own intense mind actually resonates beyond my head.”

Johnson is a distinguished poet with two books of poetry, “Leviathan with a Hook” and “A Metaphorical God,” as well as other published scholarly works.  Johnson applied for a fellowship to support the poetry book she’s currently writing, titled “Uncommon Prayer.”  She received previous awards from the Utah Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The application process included writing an essay about the trajectory of one’s career, an essay describing the project for which support is being sought, letters of recommendation and a sample of the work. Winners of the fellowship were appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

“While it’s an honor for which I’m profoundly grateful, in some ways I’m just lucky that the panel of reviewers for this year’s fellowships felt a certain aesthetic sympathy for my work,” Johnson said. “I’m not a different person, or a different writer, than I was a few weeks ago [before receiving the grant]. With that perspective, I guess I’ll just keep doing what I do: teaching, parenting, researching and writing.  Indeed, it’s what I hope to continue doing until I can’t stand up anymore, and beyond.”

John R. Rosenberg, dean of the College of Humanities at BYU, said of Johnson, “She is a gifted poet, an insightful literary critic and an accomplished classicist — a unique combination of skills that brings honor to the English Department. She also is an exceptionally demanding and engaging teacher. Her award reflects favorably on BYU and is an especially significant marker of quality and achievement in the College of Humanities and its English Department.”

Johnson received a master of arts degree from Johns Hopkins University (1995), an MFA from the University of Iowa (1997) and a doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley (2003). She teaches courses in creative writing and in Renaissance literature at BYU.

Since its establishment in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has granted nearly $290 million in fellowships to more than 17,000 individuals in some 78 fields of study.  The foundation’s choice of fellows has proved prescient: thousands of celebrated alumni and Nobel, Pulitzer and other prizewinners grace its rolls.

The mission of the foundation, as set by Sen. and Mrs. Simon Guggenheim, is to “add to the educational, literary, artistic and scientific power of this country, and also to provide for the cause of better international understanding.” In a time of decreased funding for individuals in the arts, humanities and sciences, the Guggenheim Fellowship program funds those individuals at the highest level to do the work they were meant to do.

For more information about Kimberly Johnson and her work, visit her website at or contact her at For more information about the Guggenheim Fellowship program and other winners of the fellowship, visit

Writer: Mel Gardner


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