The Lisel Mueller Scholarship, assisting eligible students in the MFA Program for Writers who are parents of young children, was established by alumna Linda Nemec Foster (poetry, 1979) in 2001. Mueller was on the Program’s faculty during its first decade. The scholarship has provided support to numerous students over the past 15 years, among them Andy Young (poetry, 2011) Luke Brekke (poetry, 2013) and Somayeh Shams (fiction, 2013).
“The Mueller Scholarship covered the cost of my travel expenses and books for a semester,” writes Brekke, “but beyond those practical ends, it reminded me of the extended community of writers that I was now a part of, reminded me that my work within the program was dependent on and meaningful to a group of people I respected and admired.”
Andy Young says, “Receiving the Lisel Mueller scholarship helped not only financially but also at the level of spirit and morale. As a writer with young children, working and choosing to pursue a degree, I relished the encouragement and appreciated it being in honor of such a brave and talented poet.”
In honor of Lisel’s birthday, we asked Linda Nemec Foster to write about her teacher and about establishing this scholarship:
Poet Lisel Mueller was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1924 and came to the United States in 1939 just months before the outbreak of World War II. Her family (which consisted of her parents and younger sister) was forced to flee the Nazi regime–a circumstance that had a profound effect on her life and work.
She is the author of eight books of poetry (and two books of translations) which include The Private Life (winner of the Lamont Poetry Award), The Need to Hold Still (winner of the National Book Award), and Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize). Her other honors include the Carl Sandburg Award, the Helen Bullis Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. As stated in her profile on the Poetry Foundation’s website, her “work probes the enigma of our public and private selves through image and metaphor.” Russell Brignano described Mueller’s work as ‘imaginative, deeply reflective, [and] subtle.'” Her poetry always achieves a perfect balance between accessibility and complex layers of nuanced language.
History, memory, folk and fairy tales are important subjects that recur in her poems; they are what intrigued me when I first read her poetry in 1977. In the summer of that year, I began my tenure as a MFA student at Goddard College (now the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College) and was fortunate to work with Lisel for my first and second semesters. As a teacher, she was focused and generous, honest and constructive, patient and wise. She was particularly interested in having the student develop her/his own voice in the context of the creative work.
I could not have asked for a better person to introduce me to the craft and experience of poetry. Over the past 37 years, Lisel has become more than a mentor: she has become one of my dearest friends. It was a privilege to establish the Lisel Mueller Scholarship Fund in her honor. Please join me in contributing to this scholarship fund that celebrates the legacy of an extraordinary poet who taught with such distinction during the early years of the MFA Program for Writers.
Missing the Dead
I miss the old scrawl on the viaduct,
the crazily dancing red letters: BIRD LIVES.
It’s gone now, the wall as clean as forgetting.
I go home and put on a record,
Charlie Parker Live at the Blue Note.
Each time I play it, months or years apart,
the music emerges more luminous;
I never listened so well before.
I wish my parents had been musicians
and left me themselves transformed into sound,
or that I could believe in the stars
as the radiant bodies of the dead.
Then I could stand in the dark, pointing out
my mother and father to all
who did not know them, how they shimmer,
how they keep getting brighter
as we keep moving toward each other.
from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems