COLUMBUS, Miss. — Dr. Allison Chestnut, who is enrolled in Mississippi University for Women’s low-residency master’s of fine arts in creative writing program, was recently awarded an honorable mention for her original poem submitted to the Intro Journals Project.

The recognition for Chestnut, who also teaches at William Carey University, came from the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Her poem was selected from those nominated by undergraduate and graduate programs nationwide.

In describing her poem, Chestnut said, “It is a short, free-verse poem set in the Mississippi Delta at the remnants of Bryant’s store, the location where Emmett Till’s tragedy began.” Till, a young, African-American teenager from Chicago, was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman in 1955. After his body was discovered in the Tallahatchie river, the crime became one of the most widely publicized of the Civil Rights era.

Chestnut, along with William Carey University colleague, Dr. Lorie Massey, teaches a literary travel class in Mississippi literature, taking students to different locations mentioned in Mississippi literature. When studying “Wolf Whistle,” a novel by Lewis Norden, they traveled to Money, a town Chestnut said was not in decent shape. This is the place where Till was murdered and his body, almost unrecognizable, was found she explained. This inspired her poem titled “Country Road 518 at Country Road 24.”

“I was struck by the level of decay,” Chestnut said. “It was as if the area somehow mirrored Till: in the end both were barely recognizable.” 

Upon finding out that she had been selected for an honorable mention, Chestnut was in a state of amazement.

“Julie Whitehead, an MUW MFA cohort, sent me a message saying she had seen the list of winners on the AWP website and that my name was on it.” Chestnut said. “I wrote the poem during Shayla Lawson’s poetry workshop. Dr. [Kendall] Dunkelberg selected the student works that represented The W in this competition. I am grateful for the opportunity to work and grow as a writer in the supportive environment provided by TheW’s MFA program, its faculty and my fellow students.” 

Chestnut is a member of AWP and of The W’s low-residency MFA in creative program, which is in its first year.

“I am honored to be included in the inaugural cohort of The W’s new MFA program.” Chestnut explained. “With the exception of two on-site classes, the remaining courses are 100 percent online. This means that we have the best of both worlds: we can take courses without disrupting life commitments in our home communities. Not only do we make connections with people who otherwise we could never meet, but we also have instructor/mentors free from the constraints of a uniform location. One instructor is in the Pacific Northwest; another is in New Orleans.”

This is also the first year that MUW has entered the AWP Intro Journals Project, according to Chestnut.

“AWP informs its members about scholarship and writing opportunities, notices about writing contests, conferences, texts and internships, as well as sponsoring conferences and workshops,” Chestnut said.

“We are very proud of Allison to receive this level of recognition in one of the most prestigious national competitions for graduate students,” Dunkelberg remarked. “The competition for this award is very high, and it shows that our students are able to stand out when judged with the top programs in the country. To do this in our first year is a remarkable achievement.”

Chestnut earned her bachelor of science degree in religion/music at The W in 1979. She earned her master’s degree in English at The W in 1980. In 1992, she earned her doctoral degree in English at Louisiana State University. She teaches Shakespeare, modern and contemporary drama, modern and contemporary literature, music and literature, psychology and literature, religion and literature, comparative mythology, renaissance literature, pre-renaissance literature, graduate seminars in world literature, American literature and drama. She has been teaching college full time for the past 33 years.

Submissions for the Intro Journals Project are works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry submitted by member programs after an internal selection process. The poetry submissions were judged by poet Tyehimba Jess.
Winners of the awards were given $100. Their work is also published in literary journals such as Artful Dodge, Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Mid-American Review, Puerto del Sol, Quarterly West and Tampa Review.