The second annual James Welch Prize reading, celebrating two Indigenous poets from the U.S., is presented in partnership with Hugo House and Poetry Northwest, featuring judge Elise Paschen and winners Halee Kirkwood and Melanie Merle.
Judge Elise Paschen, an enrolled member of the Osage Nation, is the author of, most recently, The Nightlife, Bestiary, Infidelities (winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize), and Houses: Coasts. As an undergraduate at Harvard, she received the Garrison Medal for poetry. She holds M.Phil. and D.Phil. degrees from Oxford University. Paschen received the Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs Medal in 2019. Her poems have been published in Poetry Magazine and The New Yorker, among other magazines, and in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2018 and A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry. She is the editor of The Eloquent Poem: 128 Contemporary Poems and Their Making as well as the New York Times best-selling anthology, Poetry Speaks to Children, and co-editor of Poetry Speaks and Poetry in Motion, among other anthologies. Former Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America, she is a co-founder of Poetry in Motion, a nationwide program which places poetry posters in subway cars and buses. Paschen teaches in the MFA Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute and lives in Chicago with her husband and their two children.
Winner Halee Kirkwood is a 2022 Inaugural In-Na-Po Poetry Fellow, a 2022 Minnesota State Arts Board grant recipient, and a 2019-2020 Loft Mentor Series Fellow. They received their MFA from Hamline University. Their work is forthcoming in Poetry, and has been published in Poem-A-Day, Water~Stone Review, Lunch Ticket, Pinwheel Poetry, Muzzle Magazine, Cream City Review, and others. They are the faculty editor of Runestone Journal, a national undergraduate literary annual. Kirkwood is a direct descendant of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.
Winner Melanie Merle is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and she grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After working for her tribe as a writer in the multimedia department, Merle moved to Denver, where she teaches for Lighthouse Writers Workshop, supporting their outreach efforts, leading creative writing workshops in transitional rehabilitation facilities. She is also an associate editor for the literary and art journal, Inverted Syntax. Last year, Merle was honored to be chosen a finalist for the inaugural James Welch Prize. The published piece, “DownRiver,” as well as another, “Above Ground,” were then anthologized in Infinite Constellations: Speculating Us, forthcoming from The University of Alabama Press. Merle is proud to carry on the artistic traditions of her family and to nurture them in her three children.