Former Author Wins 2022 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship

LaTanya McQueen. Photo credit: Maryam Thompson of Maryam Thompson Photography.

LaTanya McQueen ’06, a twice-published author and Emerson graduate who earned her master’s degree in creative writing, has been named the 2022 Creative Writing Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts.

The scholarship, offered biennially for prose, awards $25,000 to winners for the development of their writing careers. Selected fellows are chosen solely on the basis of the sample they provide for the application. McQueen was one of 35 writers chosen from more than 2,000 applicants.

McQueen began her undergraduate career in journalism and later moved into writing, literature, and publishing; she had a lifelong passion for writing, both fiction and non-fiction. While maintaining her occupation as an author, she simultaneously teaches English-Creative Writing at Coe College in Iowa. She turns the lessons she learned from her professors at Emerson into her own, while emphasizing how helpful an MFA is for a student’s experience to grow into their future potential.

She credits her peers while in Boston for inspiring her to be just as passionate about her work as they are about theirs. Even though everyone navigated in different contexts, each was driven to do what they were at Emerson for. In an environment alongside others who knew what they wanted to do, especially other dedicated writers, it reinforced McQueen’s commitment to his craft.

“All of them were very influential to me, and I think a lot about who they were to me as teachers, as well as mentors, now that I’m also a teacher,” McQueen said. “I lived in the city where there were readings all the time and big name authors, newbie authors. That’s sort of why we go into an MFA, because it’s really the only other time to have that time to dream about what it might be like to live your life as a writer.

The 2022 Fellowship is not the first time McQueen has participated, having done so before in both fiction and non-fiction. Her award-winning fiction sample comes from the first chapter of her 2021 novel When judgment comes. The southern gothic literary horror follows main character Mira and her return to her North Carolina hometown to attend her friend’s wedding, which takes place on a former slave plantation that has been renovated to provide visitors with a pre-war era re-enactment experience.

“There’s a big rumor in town that this plantation is haunted by the ghosts of slaves who seek revenge on the descendants of those who once owned them,” McQueen said. “During the marriage there is a lot of accountability to the protagonists. You have to have a number of publications, so you have to explain where you stand in relation to the criteria.

With a currently lower teaching load, McQueen plans to spend the prize money on his writing career in a variety of ways. Although COVID prevents him from traveling safely at the moment, McQueen hopes to do so during the summer months, while writing a few essays on the side. She is also working on a new book.

“It’s a book that also touches on similar themes from the past in terms of trauma,” McQueen said. “For this one, also the memory loss, the ways you can know and not know someone else.”

Although most of the plot details are still unknown, McQueen gave some information about the setting of the book.

“I’m trying to finish it by the summer,” McQueen said. “It’s loosely about the sterilizations of black women in North Carolina, which are integrated into the plot.”

Regardless of having an idea, once she starts writing, it doesn’t always go to plan. But with this story, she wants to do otherwise.

“It’s so hard to talk about things that are in their early writing stages, especially because I tend to be a little provocative in some ways, so I’m going to talk about something and then I’m like, maybe -be that I don’t want to actually do that,” McQueen said. “So I try not to be that and shift gears from what I write.”

McQueen is honored to be one of many endearing writers. She is filled with respect for those she has known and followed for years, and can now stand by them and regard them as her peers, further solidifying the dream she had while studying at Emerson.

“They got us all to meet via Zoom,” McQueen said. “We were trying to introduce ourselves to each other and I was trying not to cry and get depressed, and I didn’t make it. The idea that I could be part of a cohort of so many talented people, it’s really a lesson in humility.

McQueen derives immense joy from writing, devoting his time to it for a variety of reasons. Endowed with a sense of curiosity and an early love for reading, she was able to understand the world by escaping to a fictional world. As a writer, she wants to be an influence for people just as the authors she has read have been for her.

“Trying to make sense of the world, as well as trying to connect with other people and hope that what you’re doing will connect with someone else,” McQueen said. “For me, in my life, whenever I’ve had really dark times, it’s always been other writers who have saved me. Part of the reason I write is to do it in the hope that I could be to someone else what all these other writers have been to me.