College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

MFA Alumna Sara Ellen Fowler scores double literary triumphs

The ‘22 graduate is recognized as an Emerging Artist in fellowship and is the 2023 winner of a coveted poetry prize
By Alejandra Prado, Student Writer/CHASS Marketing and Communications |

UC Riverside MFA alumna Sara Ellen Fowler is celebrating double triumphs in the literary realm. Fowler has been named a 2023 Emerging Artist by the California Arts Council's Individual Artist Fellowship program, in partnership with Los Angeles Performance Practice in Los Angeles County, and has also secured the prestigious 2023 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry from the University of Utah Press

Fowler attended UCR, beginning in 2019 and graduating with a Master’s of Fine Arts in Poetry in 2022.

In late July, Fowler received the news of her California Arts Council fellowship via email. The good news continued in early September when she received a voicemail from the editor at the University of Utah Press regarding the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize.

“I was internally thrilled, but also so surprised I showed very little affect,” Fowler said. “It took about a week to let the news really sink in, and it was through registering the joy in my friends and family that I realized: this is real.”

According to Los Angeles Performance Practice, the Individual Artists Fellowship program is a statewide initiative meant to recognize, celebrate, and support California artists who practice any art form. As an Emerging Artist fellow, Fowler will receive a grant of $5,000 meant to support artistic practices. 

Fowler decided to apply to the fellowship after being inspired by the transformative impact she witnessed in her colleague and UCR alumna Crystal AC Salas, who received the California Arts Council Fellowship during the previous year. 

“Writing poetry requires patience and devotion, and when I saw how Crystal was able to exhale, rest, and recharge with the help of this funding I thought I’d try for it,” she said. 

Administered by the University of Utah Press, the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize is a “first book award” that honors the memory of the poet and teacher of the same name, awarding a $1,000 cash prize, press publication, reading in The University of Utah's Guest Writers Series, and an additional $500. 

Since graduating from the MFA program, Fowler has applied to more than 30 awards of the same type as the poetry prize at the University of Utah Press. According to Fowler, such awards open the doors for the recognition and publication of new poets. 

“It is a competitive landscape of applicant poets, and I have been emotionally supported by my peers who are also embarking on this dance of submitting their manuscripts for consideration,” Fowler said.

For the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, Fowler submitted a manuscript of her first book, a poetry collection titled “Two Signatures.” Previously, she submitted an earlier version of the book as her thesis for the MFA program. In the last year, Fowler took the opportunity to continue to work on the manuscript by editing, revising, and gaining feedback from colleagues.

According to the University of Utah Press Catalog, Fowler’s new poetry collection “initiates her readers into a synesthetic contract of close attention and deep feeling…[and] invites readers to explore the vulnerability and insistence that mark one’s devotion to any creative practice.”

Fowler intends to utilize the grants for a typewriter purchase and to fund travel for readings across California and other places, enabling her to promote “Two Signatures” which is scheduled for publication in spring/summer 2024 by the University of Utah Press.

“It is very exciting to begin the process of making the manuscript into a book,” she said. “Right now I am doing research to give the book designer inspiration for the cover of my book!”

Currently, Fowler is teaching two creative writing courses at the University of La Verne and looks forward to growing as a teacher and editor and in the next year, diving into more poetry developmental editing consulting. 

“I feel galvanized to continue participating in workshops, readings, and support circles in my writing community in Los Angeles,” Fowler said. “It has been humbling and beautiful to feel so celebrated by my colleagues and teachers — those folks who have been reading my work since the beginning.”