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Sheila Black writes for a good cause

Date: 04/03/2012

Henry David Thoreau once said, "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." Poet Sheila Black could be said to have no vanity. She has travelled the world from Brazil to France and England to Africa.

Sheila Black, senior prospect research coordinator for University Advancement, is co-author and co-editor of "Beauty Is A Verb: The New Poetry of Disability."

"When my dad was in graduate school, he joined the foreign service," Black said. "I grew up in a lot of places around the world. I lived in Brazil, in the Bahamas then in London, Paris, Athens and West Africa."

Her life in other countries has not only inspired her as a poet, but also as writer in general. Black is the development officer of Corporate and Foundation Relations in the
NMSU Vice President's office where she writes grants on behalf of New Mexico State University.

"[Travel] gave me inspiration for stories. It also gave me a lot of ideas of the degree of privilege we have in the United States; how much comparative wealth we have and how big of a deal education is to America compared to other countries in the world," she said.

Black works with corporations and foundations to raise money for programs, involving community outreach or student scholarships.

"I help them find a funding source, and I also help them write proposals to get money," she explained.

Black said that a good proposal writer is often a good short story writer.

"When you are trying to get money for something, you are trying to tell a story in a way that it will compel someone to support it. The skills are different, but they are not completely separate," she said. "As a creative writer I often write things and I don't know how they are going to influence people. I like writing and knowing that I'm going to get money to make a program work. I find that very exciting. It's funny because I'm not big on money in my private life, but I like getting money for the university."

Black became interested in writing from a very early age, using it as her way of "getting things down."

"I often feel like I'm not sure my ideas or thoughts or feelings really exist until I've written them," she said.

Black came to Las Cruces 13 years ago when her husband was accepted to the NMSU creative writing program, for which she became a part time teacher. After that, she was introduced to the importance of nonprofit organizations when she became development director for the Colonias Development Council, a nonprofit organization that does community organizing in the colonias of southern New Mexico.

"Proposal writing and people in nonprofits in general are kind of the invisible glue in society. You don't really see that they're there or see what they do, but so many programs that help people, students and the community wouldn't be possible without a whole range of nonprofit professionals, especially in development," she said.

Even with her passion for writing grants and helping the university, Black has managed to keep active as a poet.

In March, Poet Laureate of the United States Philip Levine chose Black as the 2012 Witter Bynner Fellowship winner.

"He gets to choose two poets to read at the Library of Congress and they each get $10,000. I am one of two," she explained.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima and the city council also honored her for her accomplishment, proclaiming March 19 as "Sheila Black Day" in Las Cruces.

Black recently finished an anthology of poets with disabilities titled "Poems and Essays by American Poets with Physical Disabilities from 1960 to Present."

"What inspired me to do this was that writers are always curious with people that feel outside the mainstream and how they fit in or negotiate, which was something I was really interested in conveying. The anthology is about people who are called non-normative. Writing is about making people see other perspectives, and that tends to inspire me," she said.

Black received her bachelor's degree from Barnard College and her master's degree in creative writing from the University of Montana. She is the author of two poetry books, "Love/Iraq" and "House of Bone."

Written by Angela Simental

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