English Professor and Poet Among 184 Fellows Named for 2021

Professor/poet Sandra Lim is among the 2021 Guggenheim Fellows.
Professor/poet Sandra Lim is among the 2021 Guggenheim Fellows.

By David Perry

Sandra Lim had mostly put aside her curiosity about the award.

Then, on the morning of April 8, came an email telling the UMass Lowell associate professor of English and award-winning poet that she was one of 184 artists, writers, scholars and scientists to receive a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship, the prestigious grant designed to allow recipients — “exceptional individuals”— a period to toil in creative freedom.

No stranger to awards, Lim says she “didn’t fully take in the news until I started to get texts and phone calls from friends who saw the published list of fellows online. And when I saw the names of the other fellows, I was so honored and grateful to be a part of this distinguished cohort.”

Lim, who has been putting the finishing touches on a new book of poems, “The Curious Thing,” due in September, hopes to use the fellowship’s support for her next project: to do archival research on her family history and on the history of South Korea, where she was born. “But mainly I hope to take some time just to think and write,” she says. “I feel really lifted by the support for my work to come.”

She notes the importance of carving out room “to discover new things without a specific goal in mind. I think it’s important to follow one’s nose — one’s creative and intellectual curiosity – for true artistic and scholarly discovery.”

This year’s fellows were selected from among nearly 3,000 applicants. Lim’s grant lasts 12 months.

Born in Seoul and raised in Northern California, Lim earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a doctorate in English from the University of California Berkeley. She joined the UMass Lowell faculty in 2010.

Lim loves the openness and intuitiveness of her students.

“They surprise me with moments of vulnerability or skepticism or enthusiasm as they read, and these moments allow for interesting reflections and/or connections between texts, or between life and texts,” she says. “I am always learning if I am teaching.”

A year ago, Lim was one of eight writers to win a $10,000 Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Her 2006 poetry collection, “Loveliest Grotesque,” won a Kore First Book Award for Poetry, and she earned a Barnard Women Poets Prize for “The Wilderness” in 2014.

In announcing the 2021 fellows, Guggenheim Foundation President Edward Hirsch noted that this year “was devastating in so many ways. A Guggenheim Fellowship has always been meaningful, but this year we know it will be a lifeline for many of the new fellows at a time of great hardship, a survival tool as well as a creative one.”

Since it was established in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has awarded nearly $400 million in fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals.