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University of Dayton alumna awarded National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship

By Allison Brace ’22

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded University of Dayton alumna Sonya Bilocerkowycz ’11 a $25,000 creative writing fellowship in prose based on her nonfiction submission, Samizdat.

Bilocerkowycz was one of 35 writers selected for the 2022 cycle, chosen from a pool of 2,000 candidates nationally. This year’s fellowships are in prose writing and enable recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel and general career development. Fellows are selected through an anonymous process and are judged on the artistic excellence of the sample they provided. The Creative Writing Fellowships alternate between poetry and prose each year.

“I feel extremely honored to have been chosen for the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship,” said Bilocerkowycz. “The award is going to help me in a lot of different ways, but the funding will certainly help me to carve out some time this summer for a writing retreat where I will make progress on my second book manuscript, in addition to planning a research trip in the near future.”

Bilocerkowycz holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Dayton. She minored in sociology and participated in the University Honors Program. Upon graduation, Bilocerkowycz was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship which placed her as an English instructor at Belarusian State University in Minsk, Belarus. After her Fulbright Scholarship concluded, Bilocerkowycz opted to stay in Eastern Europe for two years before returning to the United States to pursue a master of fine arts in creative writing from The Ohio State University. 

“My graduate school thesis basically morphed into my first book, which is called On Our Way Home from the Revolution: Reflections on Ukraine,” Bilocerkowycz said. “The book begins with the 2013-2014 Maidan Revolution, which took place in Kyiv, Ukraine, where protesters overthrew their pro-Russia president at the time. The book then goes back in time to look at my family’s history in the region and moves back up through history towards the present day.”

Her book was the winner of the Gournay Prize for a debut essay collection from The Ohio State University Press. Her work has also appeared in Guernica, Colorado Review, Ninth Letter, Lit Hub, the Normal School and elsewhere.

Bilocerkowycz is interested in writing about her Ukrainian ancestry because both grandparents on her father’s side were originally from that part of Eastern Europe. She was also able to gain firsthand accounts from several years living in the region.

“The NEA fellowship has provided me with a really great source of affirmation and encouragement to keep working on the project,” Bilocerkowycz said.

Bilocerkowycz hopes the fellowship will help her to continue writing and researching in the context of social justice, both in the United States and Eastern Europe, with the hope of offering greater understanding of what is taking place in Eastern Europe to those residing in western countries.

Her father, Jaro Bilocerkowycz, is an associate professor in the University of Dayton Department of Political Science. His research focus includes Russia, Ukraine and Poland, as well as democratization and human rights.

Currently, Sonya Bilocerkowycz teaches creative writing at State University of New York Geneseo, where she is able to share her personal experiences as a writer with undergraduate students.

“With nonfiction writing in particular there are a lot of ethical issues to deal with, especially as people are writing family stories, history or politics,”  she said. “When people are writing these stories they are in essence saying that these stories are true and by that admission there are a variety of ethical things to navigate with the genre.”

Bilocerkowycz says that she feels equipped to talk with students about the bounds of non-fiction writing from her own direct experiences. She hopes to be a mentor to her students and to share her own mistakes and the ways she has grown as a writer through her time working on non-fiction pieces.

Bilocerkowycz credits much of her career as an artist and writer to her faculty mentors in the University of Dayton Department of English.

“They supported me in every possible way and helped me in two ways at once by showing me how little I knew about the world but also giving me confidence as a writer,” she said.

John McCombe, University Honors Program director and professor of English, recalls meeting Bilocerkowycz as an English major and honors student with an interest in a Fulbright grant.

“From the moment I read Sonya's personal statement for her successful Fulbright application, I knew she already possessed a powerful voice as a writer,” McCombe said. “Since then, Sonya's accomplishments in her graduate studies and as a faculty member at State University New York Geneseo confirm that she has continued to refine her gifts and talents. I look forward to the writing that stems from this well-deserved NEA Fellowship."

For more information, visit the Department of English website. 

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