C.T. Salazar

COLUMBUS, Miss. — Each word brings enlightenment to C.T. Salazar.

In Salazar’s process, writing is a search for the right words that helps him learn about his subject matter and himself. As Salazar has grown more adept at finding those words, his poetry has blossomed and he has become a devout student of his craft.

Salazar, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing and a MFA in Creative Writing from Mississippi University for Women, took the next step in his journey earlier this month when he was named the winner of the Poetry category for the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters. The 41st Anniversary Awards Gala is scheduled for June 6, 2020, at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

“I keep thinking about the accountability of language, and that I really mean what I write about,” Salazar said. “I believe that when I write that I am capable of loving my state, and that my home can be so much more — I help enact that possibility by imagining it as something better. The award is incredible, and it’s nice to be recognized by my home, that this is meaningful work.”

Salazar, who is from Columbus and attended Heritage Academy and East Mississippi Community College in Mayhew, won for his collection “This Might Have Meant Fire.”

Salazar, who works as a senior librarian at the Columbus Air Force Base, admits he has matured greatly as a writer who rushed the creative process when he began his career. He said discovering patience as a graduate student at The W helped him learn how to take his time and to find the right words and attitudes.

“I think my process changes with every poem I write, so enlightenment is something that eludes me,” said Salazar, who is pursuing a master’s degree in information and archive science at the University of Southern Mississippi. “Every poem deserves the same amount of attention, and in that way, writing every poem is learning how to write it.”

“This Might Have Meant Fire,” which is Salazar’s first collection, was published in 2019. It focuses on life in places where a body of water runs through it – like the Tennessee-Tombigbee River does through Columbus – and faith, especially in the South, and how peoples’ ideas of faith and scripture are applied to 21st Century despair and ongoing issues.

Salazar said he seriously started writing when he took a creative writing class at EMCC. He said he always has loved literature, but he had never settled into a space to write prior to attending EMCC. Salazar said he loved the process immediately, even if he laughed when asked to describe his initial attempts.

Salazar said his current writing comes a little easier, even if it is sometimes is at a more deliberate pace. He said his goal is to continue to improve through observation and research and that he hopes to have his second book published this year and another one in 2021.

“I can’t deny I’m a better writer from when I first started writing,” Salazar said. “I’m actively reading and writing, and ‘craft’ implies a skill that can be improved through practice. It may not be award recognition so much as dedication to the process that makes a good writer. It’s really great to be recognized, but the practice of writing makes a great writer.”

Valentin Bogdan, a professor in The W’s Department of Music, was nominated in Music Composition (Classical) for “Vantage Points” for bassoon and violin. Mary Miller, a faculty member in The W’s MFA in Creative Writing program, was nominated for her novel “Biloxi.” Winners also were selected in Visual Arts, Photography, Musical Composition (Contemporary), Nonfiction, and Youth Literature.