Associate professor of English awarded prestigious fellowship
Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The spring 2022 semester has been quite extraordinary for Melissa Febos.

Febos, associate professor in the University of Iowa Department of English and its Nonfiction Writing Program, in January, was named a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow; in March she was named winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award, and in April was named a 2022 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in general nonfiction.

“It's an incredible honor,” Febos says of the latest honor. “I am honestly still pinching myself to make sure that it's real.”

The Guggenheim Fellowship aims to further the development of scholars and artists by assisting individuals who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for creative arts. The fellowship provides six to 12 months’ funding for artists, scholars, and writers to pursue creative projects.

Febos’ 2021 book, Girlhood, a set of stories about the values that shape girls and the women they become, became a national bestseller and was named a LAMBDA Literary Award finalist, as well as one of the best books of the year by Time Magazine, NPR, and The Washington Post. Febos’ fourth book, titled Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative, was released in March and also became a national bestseller.

“It's the spring semester and the busiest time of the year for most folks in academia, so I am only feeling it in little gulps between other things, which is probably all I can handle anyway,” says Febos. “My wife and I are planning to have a celebratory dinner with some friends who also have things to celebrate after the semester ends.” 

Febos says she always writes what she feels is necessary, and the ways in which critics or institutions may respond to it is almost as an afterthought. Nevertheless, she says she was surprised by the acclaim Girlhood received.

“I have definitely been surprised by the response to Girlhood,” says Febos, “I'm a little stunned and very grateful for all the support I've gotten in this work, from my family to my wife to the academic institutions I've attended and taught at, to the folks who write my recommendation letters.”

Before joining the UI faculty in 2020, Febos received a Master of Fine Arts from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and worked as an associate professor of creative writing at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, while serving as an MFA faculty member at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Febos says that due to the intimate nature of her subject matter, her approach to her writing takes into account the psychological in addition to the aesthetic.

“Nonfiction writing offers me a place to think in private, to sort through my own perceptions and experiences with the mediator of artistic craft,” says Febos. “Every good idea I've ever had has happened on the page and it is in part made possible by the constraints of nonfiction forms.”

The Guggenheim Fellowship will afford Febos the time to work on upcoming projects. And less than a month after the release of her latest book, she is already working on her next project.

“I'm planning to take a year to work on my next project, tentatively titled The Dry Season, which is a book-length essay that will require a lot of international research,” Febos says.

This year’s Guggenheim Fellowship recipients represent 51 scholarly disciplines and artistic fields from 81 academic institutions. Since its establishment, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted my than $400 million in fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals.

University of Iowa recipients of the Guggenheim Fellowship since 2010


  • Tracie Morris, professor of poetry, Iowa Writers’ Workshop


  • David Gompper, School of Music, piano concerto, triple concerto, orchestral piece
  • H. Glenn Penny, Department of History, Beyond Colonial Questions: Being German in Guatemala from the 1880s through the 1980s


  • Christopher Merrill, director, International Writing Program, The Trials of Roger Williams: A Biography


  • John D’Agata, Department of English, three essays


  • Phillip Round, Department of English, A Listening Ear: The Collaborative Practice of Early Native Literature


  • Judith Pascoe, Department of English, Wuthering Heights in Japan
  • Steven Ungar, Cinematic Arts, Social Documentary in France, 1927–1962


  • Ethan Canin, Creative Writing, untitled collection of short stories
  • Paula Michaels, Department of History, Lamaze: An International History