Trump wants to cut NEA funding; literary Twitter reacts

Jane Chu, chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, greets 4th-grader Jamiah Walker, 10, at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Los Angeles in 2015.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As if literature needs any more trouble, The National Endowment for the Arts is on the chopping block. The 2018 budget blueprint, released Thursday morning by the Trump administration, eliminates funding for the NEA, National Endowment for the Humanities and 17 other independent agencies.

Unlike grants in the visual arts, NEA funding in literature is awarded to individuals as well as nonprofits. From its inception in 1966, the NEA has provided $46 million to more than 3,000 individual writers and $116.6 million to nonprofits supporting literature. Published creative writers of prose or poetry are eligible to receive literature fellowships of up to $25,000 — the difference between being able to take a sabbatical, quit an adjunct gig or get a book off the ground at all.

A recent tally from the NEA noted that of 164 major American literary award winners — of the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and fiction — 95 had previously received NEA fellowships to support their work.

Writers and readers are aghast at the proposal to eliminate the NEA’s funding; many took to Twitter to decry the budget, incite action and vent.


Hari Kunzru, author of “White Tears,” pointed out how crucial NEA funding is to small presses.

Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, provided some context, started to get ALL CAPS angry and then refocused on the task at hand.


Chris Arnold, whose first book, “The Third Bank of the River: Blood, Power and Survival in the 21st Century Amazon,” is forthcoming from Picador in 2018, put it bluntly:

And San Francisco Chronicle book editor John McMurtrie reposted this excerpt from Arnold’s “Open letter to Donald Trump: Double down on the NEA!”

Michiko Kakutani tweeted an obituary written for the NEA from “The Hill”:


But Alexander Chee isn’t ready to give up yet.

Kristen Radtke, author of the graphic nonfiction book “Imagine Wanting Only This” and managing editor at Sarabande Books, reposted a photograph with Whiting Award-winner and poet Jenny Johnson from this year’s AWP, part of the #ThankYouNEA initiative, which you can also follow on twitter. “From arts education to museums in rural and underprivileged communities to small publishers to public theaters, this will be devastating to the future of cultural pursuits in America,” she said in a corresponding Facebook post. The sign she’s holding says it all.

New York’s PEN joined with a dozen other organizations, including Lambda Literary, CLMP (the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses) and the Nation to petition to save the NEA and the NEH. More than 238,000 have signed the petition, including authors Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie, Hanya Yanagihara and Anne Tyler.



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