Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Beth Ann Fennelly


Beth Ann Fennelly 1971-

Beth Ann Fennelly Photo by Maude Schuyler Clay

Major Works

  • Tender Hooks ( 2005)
  • Open House: Poems (Zoo Press 2002)
  • A Different Kind of Hunger, 1997 chapbook (Texas Review Press)
  • Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother  (2007) nonfiction
  • Unmentionables: Poems (April 2008)
  • The Tilted World 2013 (novel co-authored with Fennelly's husband Tom Franklin) 2013

Photo of Beth Ann Fennelly (courtesy of Fennelly) by Maude Schuyler Clay
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Biography of Beth Ann Fennelly
By Katherine Montgomery (SHS) 2002

Beth Ann Fennelly was born on May 21, 1971, in New Jersey but grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois.  She obtained her B.A. magna cum laude in 1993 from the University of Notre Dame. After graduation, Fennelly taught English in a coal mining village on the Czech/Polish border.  When she returned to the States, she earned the M.F.A. degree in poetry from the University of Arkansas.  She then received the 1999 Diane Middlebrook Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin.  She was also the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant.  She became an Assistant Professor of English and taught poetry at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.  Her chapbook  A Different Kind of Hunger, published by the Texas Review Press, won the 1997 Texas Review Breakthrough Award.  Her poems have been anthologized in Poets of  the New Century, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, The Best  American Poetry 1996, and The Pushcart Prize 2001 and others.   Fennelly's book of poems, Open House,  has won numerous awards, including the  2001 Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry for a First Book.  Her next  book, Tender Hooks, was published in 2004 by W. W. Norton & Company.

Her husband of five years, Tom Franklin, is also a fiction writer, and together they have a daughter Claire.  Currently,  Beth Ann Fennelly resides in Oxford, Mississippi, where she is Assistant Professor of  English at the University of Mississippi.  Her advice for future writers is, "It is of the utmost importance to read constantly, and read aloud.  I tell that to my students all the time. There’s not a lot that can help them get better quicker than reading poetry aloud, their own and others’ everyday."

In December, 2002, Beth Ann Fennelly was among only thirty-eight writers  to receive the National Endowment for the Arts Grant.  Hers is a  notable Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry.  There were 1600 applicants and each of the 28 winning fellows receives $20,000.  Fennelly  will use the award to help her put the final touches on Tender Hooks.  She is quoted in the Clarion-Ledger as saying that the book "takes on the subjeBeth Ann Fennelly, husband Tom Franklin and daughter Clairect of motherhood from a lot of different angles."  The inspiration for the collection of 25 poems was Fennelly's 19 month old daughter Claire,  and the poems explore the changes in Fennelly's  and her husband Tom Franklin's lives since Claire's birth.  Some of the poems in the book are informal, one is a Shakespearean sonnet, and one is a 12-page experimental poem. A long poem called Telling the Gospel Truth also appeared in the Kenyon Review.

Photo above courtesy of Beth Ann Fennelly: Fennelly, husband Tom Franklin, and daughter Claire in 2002

UPDATE: Since the above was written, Beth Ann Fennelly published a nonfiction work entitled Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother and in April 2008 Unmentionables: Poems was published by W. W. Norton. A novel The Tilted World, co-authored with her husband Tom Franklin, was published in 2013. The couple now have three children. Fennelly has been promoted to Associate Professor of English and is Director of the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.


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Interview with Beth Ann Fennelly Katherine Montgomery ,SHS

by Katherine Montgomery (SHS) 2002

Hi, Katherine--
I'm sorry this has taken me so long.  There have been a lot of happy things going on in my life, and they've taken up a lot of time.  My new book of poems, Tender Hooks, was accepted by WW Norton to be published in the spring of 2004, and I've been busy with that!  Now, to your questions:

1. Where were you born and when?

 I was born in New Jersey,  May 22, 1971, and  raised in Lake Forest, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

2. Is your book based on your life or someone you know?

 Yes.  The poems in my first book, Open House, were sometimes autobiographical, sometimes not.  Almost all of the poems from Tender Hooks are autobiographical, and that's something I'll have to grow comfortable with before the book is published.

3. Who is your favorite author?

 I adore Shakespeare and John Donne and Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore.  My favorite contemporary poets change sometimes, but I always am in the mood to read Jack Gilbert and Alice Fulton.  Recent collections by Lynn Emanuel, Louis Gluck, Stephen Dunn, and Denise Duhamel really inspire me.photo C. Joanna Morrissey

I also love to read fiction by my husband, Tom Franklin. He's published a book of short stories, called Poachers (William Morrow, 1999) and has a novel, Hell at the Breach, which will be published by Harper Collins this spring. We’re each other’s first readers, as a matter of fact, and that’s a wonderful thing to share.  I also read a lot of fiction because we have a lot of friends who write fiction.  That, too, is pretty wonderful.

4. What author do you think has influenced you most?

 Bishop, and my pal Ann Fisher-Wirth (another Mississippi poet!) and my professors.

5. Why did you call your book Open House?

 I've written as long as I can remember.  I called my first book Open House because I wanted a term that seemed inclusive for the various styles and modes of poetry in the book.  Also, the house is an image that appears several times in it.

6. What made you become interested in writing?

I love words.

7. What kind of student were you in high school?

I was a very bookish kid, so I've always done well in school .

8. How long did it take you to write Open House and where did you get the inspiration?

4 Four years--and inspiration is wherever I can find it.

9. Are you working on a new book right now? What is the name of it?

Tender Hooks will be published by W.W. Norton in the spring of 2004.  I'm very excited about it.  It contains a lot of the poems I've been writing about my daughter, Claire.Beth Ann Fennelly, Tom Franklin, and daughter Claire at 19 months

10. Do you have any advice for future writers?

It is of the utmost importance to read constantly and read aloud.  I tell that to my students all the time. There’s not a lot that can help them get better, quicker, than reading poetry aloud, their own and others everyday.

11. How long have you been married?

We'll be married five years this summer, and we'll celebrate our anniversary in Italy.

12. When was your daughter Claire born?

 May 19, 2001.

13. What would you say was your biggest accomplishment?

Running the Chicago Marathon in 1998.

I'll send a photo to you snail mail.  Please let me know if you need more info, and please let me know when the web site is up.  Also, feel free to check out my web site, www.bethannfennelly.com  for other stuff. Thanks, and good luck to you!

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Related Websites

University of Mississippi English Department page for Beth Ann Fennelly.

Beth Ann Fennelly wins National Endowment for the Arts Grant.

On Poetry and the Reallocation of Concentration: Learning to Forget by Beth Ann Fennelly

An Interview with Beth Ann Fennelly conducted by Luan Gaines.

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Bibliography

"Beth Ann Fennelly." 2 Dec.2002. Email interview http://faculty.knox.edu/bfennell/dkgrnlinks.htm>
"Beth Ann Fennelly." 2 Dec.2002. < www.zoopress.org/Fennelly.html >
"Beth Ann Fennelly." 2 Dec.2002. <http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/faculty/fennelly_beth-ann.html >
"Emerging poet, UM professor enjoying fruits of labor."   Jackson: The Clarion-Ledger, January 12, 2003.

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Last updated in September 30, 2013
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