Updated: Jan 17, 2019
One of SU’s very own, senior Emma DePanise from Queenstown, Md., has received one of the nation’s most esteemed literary awards, the Pablo Neruda.
Up against published and award-winning poets, DePanise was pleasantly surprised when she received a call from Tulsa, Okla. giving her the news that she had won first prize.
Submissions for the competition are completely anonymous and require that the piece up for judging is unpublished.
The judge for the 2018 Neruda Prize was American poet, spoken-word performer, playwright, author, writing teacher and former journalist Patricia Smith.
DePanise is traveling to Oklahoma in October to officially be presented with the award and is eagerly anticipating finally meeting Smith.
“It’ll be really cool to meet the judge of the contest, Patricia Smith, because I’m actually reading her book for one of my classes next semester,” DePanise said. “Just knowing that people like that are reading your work in general is kind of cool to think about.”
When DePanise travels to Oklahoma for the ceremony, she will also be conducting a workshop with second-place winner and editor and author of three books, Megan Merchant.
“Specifically, we are doing a workshop on the use of emotion in poetry as part of Nimrod’s conference for readers and writers,” DePanise said.
Along with the workshop, DePanise is also sitting on a panel about balancing a writer’s life with the overwhelming tasks of day-to-day life. Although she sees a writer’s life as stressful, she confesses that as a student she does not have to balance as much as someone in the real world might have to.
“I definitely feel like it is different because I am still a student,” DePanise said. “A lot of my classes are writing-based, which makes it a little bit easier.”
One difficult thing that DePanise admits is stressful to deal with as a writer is the process of submitting work to various contests.
“That can actually be really time-consuming, so when you have all these other papers and homework assignments, it’s really easy to decide not to submit to things.”
Despite the stress of time crunching, DePanise truly has an inclination to write, whether it be for a research paper in her technical writing class, or for a more creative piece. She claims that she’s always loved to write, and sees much more writing in her future.
“I love to make connections between history, or science, and just relating that to my personal life,” DePanise said.
DePanise also sees writing as an outlet to sort out all of her thoughts and conceptualize how the world works in her eyes.
“I think I just have to write because it’s how I understand things,” DePanise said. “If I didn’t write, I would just have too many thoughts and too many emotions and I would be too curious about all the different things in the world.”
DePanise accredits a large amount of her literary success to the creative writing program at SU – particularly her creative writing professor Dr. John Nieves, whose encouragement played a huge role in her desire to get published.
“Definitely at Salisbury, Dr. Nieves has been huge in just helping me take myself seriously as a writer,” DePanise said. “He treats every single student like their writing is working to be publishable.”
Nieves has high praise for DePanise as well, and having been her teacher for the past three years at SU, he has seen much growth and improvement in her writing.
“Emma is probably one of the most impressive people I’ve ever worked with in my life, and she’s also one of the most impressive writers,” Nieves said. “But really, what sets her apart is that she is willing to see things that she didn’t see, and then revise those things into what she is thinking about so that, really, there isn’t anything she won’t go at.”
Nieves sees a bright future for DePanise and has confidence that she will go far in whatever she sets her mind on.
“I’m sure I’ll be at a book signing of hers in the next five years, and she’ll be off in a graduate program teaching her own students by this time next year,” Nieves said. “But right now she’s going to be on the national stage quite a bit, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she stays there.”
Aside from being a nationally acclaimed poet, DePanise spends her time working as an editor for SU’s literary magazine The Scarab, being a participating member of SU’s Honors Program and working for the writing center as a consultant.
This semester, DePanise is taking several writing courses, including a directed study that aims to guide her in how to teach others to write creatively.
“English 351 is such a cool course because I get to interact and observe what’s happening and then I get to teach three lessons of my own throughout the semester,” DePanise said.
When asked what advice she had to other young writers with hopes of being published, DePanise emphasized the importance of being critical.
“Be critical of your work but to never doubt your ability that you could be published in the future,” DePanise said. “Be able to look at your writing as if you’re an outsider and detach yourself from it to see what is working and what isn’t. And to never throw anything away… because you never know if you could repurpose something or use it in a different piece.”
Following graduation, DePanise plans to attend graduate school to get her Master of Fine Arts, which will put her on the track of one day teaching her own creative writing class.
By CAROLINE STREETT
Gull Life editor
Featured photo: Nationally acclaimed SU senior Emma Depanise reads her winning poem in front of a live audience (Emma Redier image).