Tuesday, March 24, 2020



Jorrell Watkins, who will receive an MFA in creative writing and poetry from the University of Iowa this May, is the winner of a Fulbright Study/Research Arts grant in Creative Writing to Japan for 2020-21

Jorrell Watkins

Hometown: Richmond, VA
Award: 2020-21 Fulbright Study/Research Arts grant in Creative Writing to Japan
Degree: MFA Creative Writing (Poetry)

Could you give me a brief synopsis of what you'll be doing with your Fulbright? 

I will compose a collection of written and performance poems combining the aesthetics of Black American music, specifically hip-hop and blues, with those of enka, a genre of traditionally styled Japanese popular music that bears similarities to Western country music and traditional blues. My research of enka will consist of interviews of Japanese musicians, artists, and listeners, travel to study regional enka performances, and consultations with scholars of Japanese music and history. 

What drew you to this field of study?

I have long admired and studied Japanese culture and art, specifically Shotokan Karate and Japanese poetic forms such as haiku, tanka, and haibun. Throughout my scholarly and personal study, I’ve noticed how Black and Japanese artists have created cross-cultural work in music and literature. Jero, a Pittsburgh-raised Black American, became the first Black enka singer in Japan during the mid-2000s. He combined hip-hop style and R&B technique within his enka performance and music. Black writers such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Sonia Sanchez implemented jazz and blues aesthetics in their haiku and tanka. The work of these artists encourages me to build on this tradition of literary/musical cross-cultural exchange between Black American and Japanese artists.

"Living and studying in a country like Japan is precisely the kind of experience I desire and need to grow into a culturally-responsive scholar and global citizen I aim to become."

How do you envision this will influence your life/future career?

This project and year I will spend in Japan will allow me to contribute to the growing body of Afro-Asian work that I admire, especially in literature and music. Professionally, this experience will allow me to pursue my goals of scholarly study and teaching about Black American and Japanese culture at the university level. Personally, this will be my first time living outside of the U.S. and venturing overseas. Living and studying in a country like Japan, that is significantly culturally different from what I know and have experienced in the U.S., is precisely the kind of experience I desire and need to grow into a culturally-responsive scholar and global citizen I aim to become.

What advice do you have for future students interested in applying for a Fulbright? 

My advice is to start your application early and make your work on it gradual. Look at the application components and identify (with a Fulbright mentor) which ones you need to work on the most. Then, do small things weekly (e.g. draft a paragraph for your statement, compose a host contact email), and even smaller things daily, (e.g. listen to songs in the host country’s language, look up the country’s geography). Attend the Fulbright seminars and workshops when you can, though try to make it a priority to go. Talk to people who applied and are applying. Let people know you are applying for the Fulbright, and that you are excited to do it.

Are there individuals you'd like to thank for their investment in this process?

Yes! There are many individuals that I would like to thank. Inside the UI community. I want to thank first and foremost, Karen Wachsmuth, the Fulbright faculty mentors, and the staff at the International Programs for their tremendous leadership, guidance, and support throughout the Fulbright process. Thank you, Fulbright Japan alumni Douglas Baker and Alexa Frank for your advice and encouragement. Thank you, Professors Erica Prussing and Paul Dilley for your mentorship during the 2019 Grant Writing Seminar last summer; thank you to my grant writing colleagues who read multiple drafts of my statements (within a week span). Thank you, Professors Kendall Heitzman and Kendra Strand for your enthusiastic, kind and continued support of me. Thank you, to my colleagues and mentors in the Japanese Language department; Onishi-sensei, Ogaki-sensei, and Nishi-sensei, dōmo arigatōgozaimashita. Huge, huge thanks to my mentors and thesis committee, Professors Mark Levine, Elizabeth Willis, and Richard B.Turner; your unwavering and generous support empowers me to succeed and thrive. Lastly, thank you to all my peers across the university who’ve encouraged me, wrote with me, and waited for the news with me. Thank you, friends, we made it!    

Explore the many funding opportunities open to Ui students and alumni

Students are encouraged to begin their funding searches and applications at least six months to one year in advance.  Schedule an advising appointment with Karen Wachsmuth to discuss your interest in an international fellowship or begin an application (as a UI undergraduate student, graduate student, or alumna/us).