CWU News

CWU English professor takes home New American Poetry Prize

CWU Associate Professor of English Maya Jewell Zeller

CWU Associate Professor of English Maya Jewell Zeller has won the 2022 New American Poetry Prize.

A Central Washington University professor’s poetry has earned some well-deserved recognition on the national stage.

Maya Jewel Zeller, a CWU associate professor of English, learned last month that her manuscript, out takes/glove box, had been awarded the 2022 New American Poetry Prize. The manuscript has previously been a finalist with the National Poetry Series, the Jake Adam York, and the New American Poetry Prize, but winning the New American is a major breakthrough.

Internationally renowned poet Eduardo Corral judged the contest blindly, and Zeller was ecstatic when her work rose to the top.

“I have been sending out this manuscript for a couple years, and I feel very lucky to be chosen for this award,” said Zeller, who completed an initial draft of out takes/glove box seven years ago. “It’s really affirming to have a contemporary peer recognize my work and find value in it. This is such a huge honor, and I feel like this could be a positive turn for me in my career.”

In addition to claiming the prestigious New American Poetry Prize, Zeller’s winning manuscript will be published in the fall and sold nationwide and internationally. She also will receive a $1,500 cash prize and 25 copies of the book, plus promotional support from the publisher.

Eduardo CorralZeller has followed Corral’s work since arriving at CWU in 2016, when he was a guest speaker for the Lion Rock Visiting Writers Series.

“He didn’t know it was my manuscript since he was judging the contest without names,” said Zeller, who earned tenure in the English Department in 2020. “That made it all the more special for me because I have always found a sort of kinship with his poetry. There are so many different kinds of writing, and to be chosen by this poet, in particular, is both humbling and exciting.”

Zeller added that many of her CWU students also have gravitated to his poetry, which explores themes of immigration, cultural assimilation, and border politics that resonate with today’s young writers.

“Corral is one of my favorites, and he has also been a really formative poet for our students,” she said. “He has become a role model for many of them.”

Zeller has noticed that her style tends to overlap with Corral’s, even though they come from different backgrounds and focus on different themes in their writing. For example, she talked about her use of code-switching between formal and informal language registers, while Corral employs code-switching techniques between Spanish and English. “Code-switching” refers to alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language.

“Our experiences are very different, but our work has some of the same aesthetic, global lineage origins,” said Zeller, a second-generation American whose father immigrated from Germany. “He writes a lot about family lineage, and my book deals a lot with motherhood. He also loves to use deep image, symbolism, and connection to the land—which also serve as techniques and inspirations for me.”

Zeller, who splits time between Ellensburg and Spokane, serves as poetry editor for Scablands Books and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the CWU Professional and Creative Writing Program.

As noted in her online biography, she has taught writing and literature to a range of demographics: high school and college students, fourth-graders, and senior citizens. She has worked for numerous universities, schools, conferences, and retreats, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Her professional accolades include awards from Sycamore Review, New South, New Ohio Review, Dogwood, Florida Review, and Crab Orchard Review. Her poems and essays have also been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes, Best of the Net, and others. In addition to her New American Poetry Prize-winning manuscript, she has published collections titled Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts (a collaboration with a visual artists), Rust Fish, and Yesterday, the Bees.

Zeller will be representing CWU at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference March 8-11 at the Seattle Convention Center, participating in four separate events (two readings and two panels). On Friday, March 10 at 10:35 a.m., she and a group of CWU English Department colleagues and students will present “A Decade of Professional and Creative Writing at Central Washington University.”

For conference details, visit the AWP website.

Media Contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs,, 509-963-1518