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Meet our Grantees

Since the inception of its grant making program in 2019, New Mexico Writers has awarded $30,000 to 18 writers from across New Mexico.




Sylvia Rains Dennis, of El Prado is a poet, native plant ecologist, educator, and restoration specialist. Her writings and professional endeavors have focused on sustainability of our shared homelands and the unique land-based cultures of our region. She celebrates a love of language, community and homelands by engaging with the natural world, and she has collaborated with others to help communities restore and preserve Northern New Mexico's rich ecosystems. In addition to an MA in English from Middlebury College, and PhD research at the Shakespeare Institute (United Kingdom), Rains Dennis has an extensive academic and professional background in botany, ecology and biodiversity. She has taught at several universities, most recently as adjunct faculty at the University of New Mexico’s Taos Branch. A lifelong advocate of field-based education and interactive learning opportunities, Rains Dennis also created the Ecology Programs Division for Taos Pueblo. Her New Mexico Writers grant supported work on a poetry collection, Singing in the Slipstream, which embraces themes of biodiversity conservation, sustaining rural communities, and coping with environmental change.


Laurel Goodluck writes picture books with modern Native themes that reflect Native children’s cultural experiences and everyday life, showing Native children that they have a perspective that is unique and powerful. In October 2022, Charlesbridge released Laurel’s debut picture book, Forever Cousins, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, which has been named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. The Heartdrum imprint of HarperCollins will release Rock Your Mocs, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight, in Fall 2023. Too Much, illustrated by Bridget George, is slated for a Spring 2024 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Laurel comes from an intertribal background of Mandan and Hidatsa from the prairies of North Dakota, and Tsimshian from a rainforest in Alaska. She began writing by crafting curriculum for community advocacy involving Native teen leadership and later for children newly diagnosed with mental health challenges. Her New Mexico Writers grant supported her professional development through her attendance at The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference and Kweli – The Color of Children’s Literature Conference.  Laurel lives in Albuquerque with her Navajo husband, where they raised two children also bent on storytelling in journalism and acting. 




Jason Asenap is a Comanche and Muscogee writer and director based in Albuquerque. He holds an MFA in Screenwriting from the Institute of American Indian Arts. His films have screened around the United States and internationally. In addition to film, Asenap contributes thoughtful journalism, writing primarily about Indigenous contributions to film, art and culture. You can find his writing in Esquire, High Country News and First American Art magazine. Asenap was born and raised in Oklahoma and spent significant time in North Texas. He calls the Southern Plains and the High Desert of New Mexico home and it heavily influences his aesthetic. Asenap’s New Mexico Writers grant supported him in publishing a piece on Indigenous women filmmakers in New Mexico for the August 2020 issue of New Mexico Magazine and in his current work on a feature length screenplay, “The Councilman.”


Denise Chávez is a Fronteriza writer, bookseller and activist for sentient life. She and her husband Daniel Zolinsky own Casa Camino Real Bookstore in Las Cruces. Chávez is the author of The King and Queen of Comezón, Loving Pedro Infante, A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food and Culture and Face of An Angel, among other works. She is the co-founder, with Kari Lenander, executive director of the Border Servant Corps, of Libros Para El Viaje, an ongoing Refugee, Migrant, and Asylum-seeker book gathering and distribution initiative that delivers books to children and families on the U.S./Mexico border. Chávez is co-editing, with Dr. Enrique Lamadrid, former head of Chicano/Latino programs at the University of New Mexico, an upcoming anthology, We Are Here to Represent. Supported by a New Mexico Writers grant, the book features the work of multi-generational writers and artists telling the story of their service to Refugee and Migrant families.


Rachel Harris-Huffman is an interdisciplinary artist and writer based in Albuquerque. She holds an MLitt in Art Writing from the Glasgow School of Art and a BFA in Fine Art from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in periodicals in the US and the UK. Her research interests include material culture, contemporary ethnography and archaeology. She was awarded a New Mexico Writers grant for her ongoing project, 3,000 Miles from Home, a nonfiction book following the repatriation of a human skull from Teotihuacan, Mexico, that was found hidden in storage at a small Pennsylvania museum.


Chasity Salvador is a spoken-word poet from Acoma Pueblo. She has performed slam and spoken word poetry for gatherings of Indigenous folks, for political testimonies for environmental justice roundtables, for small art venues in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and most excitingly, at awareness/community events in her beloved home of Acoma Pueblo. With her New Mexico Writers grant, Salvador is creating her first chapbook, which explores the lives and stories of young indigenous womxn/girls and two-spirit people.


Khadijah VanBrakle is a Muslim woman of color. She writes contemporary young adult stories, with characters, like her three daughters, who are Black American and Muslim. She is represented by literary agent Kristina Perez of the Zeno Literary Agency. In September 2021, VanBrakle was chosen for one of the Highlights Foundation’s Muslim Storytellers Fellowships and is an Admin member of Black Creators HQ. She’s active in the New Mexico chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and has been a member for 10 years. VanBrakle used the generous New Mexico Writers grant to attend a number of online writing conferences and to purchase an annual membership to a professional authors organization.


Emily Withnall is from Las Vegas, New Mexico, and currently lives in Santa Fe. Her work has been published in Tin House, The Kenyon Review, Gay Magazine, Orion, River Teeth, Ms. Magazine, High Country News and other publications. Withnall’s work also appears in the anthologies Greetings from Janeland and We Leave the Flowers Where They Are. She is a regular contributor to El Palacio Magazine and serves as an economic justice writing fellow for Community Change. Emily is currently writing a book about domestic violence and hydraulic fracturing, a project supported by a New Mexico Writers grant.




Zach Hively writes poetry, music and creative nonfiction. He is the author of the poetry books Wild Expectations and Desert Apocrypha, the forthcoming humorous essay collection Call Me Zach Hively Because That Is My Name, and the work-in-progress Honky Rhinestone and His Cowboy, a memoir about the best dog in the world, for which he received the New Mexico Writers Grant. He is the founder and publisher of Casa Urraca Press. His music with Oxygen on Embers is available on vinyl, CD and wherever you stream your music. He lives near Abiquiu.


Chelsea Bunn is the author of Forgiveness, which was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, the Eric Hoffer Book Award and the Paris Book Festival Award, a semi-finalist in the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Competition, and an honorable mention for the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize. She received the Rita Dove Award in Poetry, was twice awarded the Academy of American Poets Catalina Páez & Seumas MacManus Prize, and was a finalist for the Lit Fest Fellowship for Emerging Writers, Frontier Poetry's Industry Award, the Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize, the Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry and the Tom Howard Prize in Poetry. Her work appears in Best New Poets, Bellevue Literary Review, Hayden's Ferry Review and elsewhere. A grant from New Mexico Writers has supported the drafting and revision of her debut full-length poetry collection, a book tentatively titled Unleashed, investigating desire, pain and longing through a female lens.


Jeanne Lyet Gassman's first novel, Blood of a Stone, received an Independent Publishers Book Award in 2015 in the national category of religious fiction. Additional honors include fellowships from Ragdale and the Arizona Commission for the Arts, as well as nominations for a Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fiction. Her work has appeared in Clerestory, Bosque 7 and Barrelhouse, among many others. Gassman received the New Mexico Writers grant for her novel-in-progress, The Double Sun, a story about a family of downwinders who developed cancer from government-sanctioned radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada.


Renata Golden explores the nature of landscapes and the power of the natural world to influence our understanding of the human spirit. The New Mexico Writers Douglas Preston Travel Grant sent her to the Chiricahua Mountains on the borders of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico to revise her manuscript about her “thin place”—that ancient Celtic concept of a place where the borders between the sublime and the profane vanish. Her essays have been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Originally from the South Side of Chicago, Golden holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston.



Lise Goett has published two books of poetry: Waiting for the Paraclete (Beacon, 2002) and Leprosarium (Tupelo, 2018). The New Mexico Writers grant will subsidize work on her third manuscript, The Radiant, a collection about language as a prison with a key—like the body—both holding the spirit captive while serving as vehicle for ecstatic apprehension. Her awards include Robert B, Winner Award, The Paris Review Discovery Award and The Palette Spotlight Award, and postgraduate fellowships from The Milton Center and The Creative Writing Institute. Her poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, Lana Turner, Ploughshares, Image and the Antioch Review.


Zahra Marwan works as a traditional artist with watercolor and ink and enjoys small narrative illustrations and magical realism. She is fond of her cultural roots in Kuwait as well as the liberal education she has received throughout her life in New Mexico. She has loved working with museums, non-profits, theater companies and cultural centers, and has found making picture books to be dreamier than she had dreamed them to be. She works out of her studio at the Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque. With the help of the New Mexico Writer’s grant, Marwan is working on developing a manuscript for a third picture book with her editor at Bloomsbury Publishing.

Nicole Morris was born in Los Angeles, California, and holds an M.A. in Education from Prescott College. Poetry informs all aspects of her life as a mother, scholar and educator whose research is rooted in the intersectionality of identity, coloniality and BIPOC liberation. A published poet, Morris teaches in the Creative Writing department at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She resides next to a river that is dry for half the year and runs wild the other half in Santa Fe. The New Mexico Writers grant award will support Nicole’s completion of her first poetry manuscript, which tackles themes of motherhood, grief and resilience.


Kayt Peck started her long writing career as a journalist. Her work now includes seven novels currently in print, three of which were finalists in New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. She is an accomplished playwright and is currently working on “Fantasmos del Pasado” (Ghosts of the Past) celebrating the rich history of Las Vegas, New Mexico—the project for which she is receiving support from New Mexico Writers. She has had two winning plays (“The Phone Call,” and “Give-a-Shit Repair Shop”) in the Rocky Mountain Voices competition. Her latest play, “Sheltered Women,” took top honors at the New Mexico AACTFest and received a special award for Excellence in Play Writing at the five-state Region VI AACTFest. Her screenplay, “Choke Cherry Jelly,” has won major awards in four different international film festivals. Earlier this year, Kayt was chosen as the Las Vegas premier poet laureate.


Karen Petersen has traveled the world extensively, originally as a combat photojournalist and later as a foreign correspondent. Now retired, she has devoted herself to publishing short stories, flash and poetry both nationally and internationally in a variety of publications which deal with her many experiences both here and abroad. In 2019, she was the first person in the history of the Pushcart Prize to receive five nominations in three categories: poetry, short story and flash. In 2021, one of her poems was long-listed for the Bridport Prize. She has also been nominated for the Forward Prize, the Saboteur Prize and the Best of the Net. Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish. A New Mexico Writers Douglas Preston Travel Grant will support her attendance at the Spring 2023 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Seattle.


Veronica E. Velarde Tiller,  a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, is an author, historian and language consultant. In 1976 she received her Ph.D.  from the University of New Mexico. Her best known works are History of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe:1846-1980 and Tiller's Guide to Indian Country. Currently she is working on the preservation of her tribal language under a grant from the National Science Foundation in retranslating Pliny Goddard’s 1911 Jicarilla Texts. With this New Mexico Writers grant, she will use the Jicarilla Texts to rewrite her tribe’s history in the 1870s-1880s.


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