Grants and Awards — A Primer

Making a living as a poet is often a patchwork of incomes and professional opportunities. Publications of collections rarely are enough to support a life, so non-profits, universities, and government organizations have fortunately stepped in—we want to focus today on the grant applications and some tips for navigating them.

Finding the Opportunity

Finding the grants, awards and residencies has gotten easier over the years with the advent of our digital space. These four resources are essential:

  1. Res Artis: The Worldwide Network for Artist Residencies
  2. NYFA Source
  3. Poets & Writers
  4. Submittable’s Discover

NYFA Source is going to be the most powerful locator of grants for poets, while Submittable and P&W help with prizes and awards, and the Res Artis will help you find the residency opportunities.



While prizes usually only ask for your written work, grant applications require much more depth and consideration. They usually break down into five sections. Overall, attractive projects are ones that have a lot of energy and feel inevitable from the artist. This link, from Grants for Artists Projects, has some great examples as well.

Project Description

Do not underestimate this section! This is usually the first thing the judges read, so see it as an invitation to your application as a whole. This is also an opportunity to provide a taste of your style while also laying out your goals as a poet. You are guiding the judge on how to read your work sample.


  1. Avoid jargon. Do not be overly theoretical as your reader may not be familiar with terms that are too technical.
  2. Define your project. Be clear about the reading experience: who is your audience and what will they get from the work.
  3. Contextualize your work. Think about who has influenced you to this point and reveal your position and career in the broader landscape of the industry.
  4. Answer why you and why now. Show urgency! Focus on questions like: what inspired you to start this? What drives you to do this work? What do you hope to accomplish?
  5. Describe how your project is appropriate for this opportunity. Let the judges know why this project fits the opportunity and organization and be clear about how the grant will assist in its completion.
  6. PROOFREAD. Do not let small mistakes sink your first impression.


Resume or CV

Be concise and explicit here. If you’re sharing your CV, share the shorter version. Not every single publication needs to be displayed—keep the highlights and remove the rest.



Better to have someone who knows your work well than a looks-good-on-paper acquaintance. Describe your project to the recommender so that they may speak to it and your potential together.

And be polite: give your recommender a month’s notice. Don’t wait till the last minute!


Work Sample

Each grant will ask something different but some general rules apply here.

  1. Don’t send in early drafts. Submit only work that is as polished and complete as you can possibly make it.
  2. Submit recent work only. A three-year rule is generally helpful: send in work only that has been completed in the past three years. Older writing undercuts the sense of urgency you’re trying to build. (However, if you’ve taken a break from writing, as there are many legitimate reasons to do, be clear as to why the work is from more than 3 years ago.)



This can be a difficult section for writers. Creative Capital has great resources, including a sample budget.

Some key points:

  1. Income. Use this section to describe the income you expect to receive as you work on the project, including any potential grants and donations.
  2. Pay yourself! Make sure to include in your budget your artist’s fee. You can do this in different ways, but likely the easiest is to use an hourly rate ($30 per hour). If your project will take 200 hours to complete, that’s 30 x 200 = $30,000.
  3. Research costs. These can include books, travel, associated research costs, etc. Be crystal clear and know your stuff.
  4. Personal expenses. Healthcare! Include healthcare costs! And travel and fees included in the publication and production process.
  5. Office rental and equipment. Many of us need to get out of the house to work. Research the costs of an office rental, including new equipment like a computer and printer.


Now go, poet, and get that money! And do not be discouraged by rejection. This community is smaller than it looks and every person who reads your application will remember you the next time. Finalists one year may win the next.

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