FY23 Independent Artist Fellowship in Literature Winners

By Lee Baird, Director of Literary Arts –

In the fifteen or so years I have managed the Literary Arts Fellowships at the Commission, I have had the pleasure of getting to read some of the best writing coming out of our state. Every year I remark that our adjudicators have their work cut out for them, and I do not envy their task of choosing only a single winner. This year was no exception, but our judges have acquitted themselves admirably and chosen three exceptional writers in the categories of Writing for Children, Fiction, and Poetry. Let me tell you a little about them.

Jessica Young

Jessica Young is the author of award-winning books for young readers, including I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams, My Blue is Happy, Play This Book and Pet This Book, the Haggis and Tank Unleashed early chapter book series, the Fairylight Friends early reader series, A Wish Is A Seed, the Finley Flowers chapter book series, Spy Guy The Not-SO-Secret Agent, and her new board book—Baby’s Here!

Her writing journey began after she fell in love with picture books while reading to her son. Jessica says, “I think of writing as story gardening: coaxing idea seeds to sprout, then tending and pruning them as they take shape and bloom. Along with all of the problem-solving and revising, there’s a great deal of experimentation and play. I’m inspired by things people—especially kids—say and do, memories, music, art, the sounds of words, and children’s books.” She believes that in addition to helping children learn the skill of reading, children’s books help kids develop creativity, imagination, and curiosity. When they read, children see themselves, and envision things outside their own experience of reality. They discover ideas that make them think and make them laugh; healthy ways to escape the everyday world and develop a sense of connection and empathy; and clues to solving future real-life problems.

Jessica says the Fellowship will enable her to focus on her next big project, a middle-grade novel.

Check her out at

Kelly Luce | photo credit: Alex Jaynes

Kelly Luce’s novel Pull Me Under was named of the year’s Best Books by Elle magazine, and her story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is a winner of the Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book.

She wrote her first short stories while living and working in Japan, where she realized that she wanted to be a storyteller, and to understand how and why people behave the way they do. Her work covers a broad range of topics. Still, she often returns to the themes of the meaning of home, parent-child relationships, the emotional power of music, the magic of the everyday, the power of belief, and the beautiful strangeness of the natural world. She says, “I have been inspired by the landscape in Tennessee, and since moving here have begun experimenting with ways to write about climate that feel fresh, that re-envision, that center the planet’s voice and the story it has been trying to tell us.

Kelly says she will use the Fellowship to allow her time to work on her third book and to travel to a residency.

Find her at

Amie Whittemore

Amie Whittemore is the author of the poetry collections Glass Harvest and the forthcoming Nest of Matches and Star-Tent: A Triptych. She is the director of MTSU Write and a lecturer in English at Middle Tennessee State University. She served as the Poet Laureate of Murfreesboro 2020-2021 and was named 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow.

Her poetry explores human interaction with different ecologies and landscapes and reveals her deep curiosity about the many complex relationships humans form with natural and human-made landscapes. She says, “a series of poems from my first collection (Glass Harvest, Autumn House Press, 2016) are meditations on different prairie plants I encountered in the ditches and pastures I explored as a child. Through these meditations, I not only sought to complicate the pastoral mode but also to begin a creative and intellectual engagement with climate change; in particular, I’m curious about the ways in which even a small action like that of adjusting a thermostat has a global impact. This exploration of climate change continues into my current work.”

Amie plans to use the Fellowship award to fund her upcoming book tour and a writing retreat.

Connect with her at

Congratulations to this year’s winners. I encourage you to seek out these and other great Tennessee writers and take advantage of our wealth of literary talent in this state. I look forward to reading what comes next.