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Alumna wins National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship

Meghan Carlton Phillips ’08 has been awarded $25,000 for her flash fiction creative writing.

Meghan Carlton Phillips portrait.

“My heart is fit to burst,” Meghan Carlton Phillips ’08 tweeted to her more than 5,000 followers on Jan. 16. That was the day it became public knowledge that she was the recipient of a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Creative Writing Fellowship in prose. “Still kinda shocked but mostly honored and incredibly grateful,” Phillips’ tweet continued.

Phillips, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English at McDaniel and was a co-winner of The Makosky Award for Excellence in English in 2008, is among 36 writers who were each granted a $25,000 fellowship. The NEA — the federal government agency that supports the arts — received nearly 1,700 eligible applications for this year’s awards.

Based in Manheim, Pa., Phillips works in administration and advancement at the Elizabethtown Public Library. She is also the editor of Third Point Press, a local literary magazine, and the social media editor for Smokelong Quarterly.

At McDaniel, Phillips made her mark early. Professor of English Becky Carpenter remembers Phillips vividly from her First Year Seminar in Fall 2004. Carpenter says that many alumni from that class on gender, culture and literature have gone on to do incredible things. “I am so incredibly proud of Meghan,” she says.

“Part of the reason I decided to go to McDaniel is because I met Becky on an Admitted Students Day,” Phillips says. “Her class is where I learned there was this amazing community of people out there that care about the little things that feel huge to me. McDaniel gave me a lot of time and space to be a person who thinks a lot and to be a person who is pretty weird. It opened my mind to ways of engaging with media and the world around me.”

"McDaniel gave me a lot of time and space to be a person who thinks a lot and to be a person who is pretty weird. It opened my mind to ways of engaging with media and the world around me.”

Ironically, Phillips says she never made a conscious decision to be a writer. “I used to make up stories for myself and I wrote bad poetry as a teenager,” Phillips says. “I find stories to be really magical, but it wasn’t something that I thought I could do. But I fell in love with writing at a class at the former Lancaster Literary Guild in 2013 or 2014.”

That’s where Phillips learned about the genre known as flash fiction — short stories under 1,000 words. “All of a sudden, I realized I could tell stories like this. It felt like the way my brain works,” Phillips says of the genre she’s come to love. That class also taught her about submitting her work to literary magazines. Her work has since been anthologized in Best Microfiction 2019 & 2020 and The Best Small Fictions 2019. Her flash fiction chapbook about the female teenager experience, Abstinence Only, will be published later this year by Barrelhouse Books.

When Phillips received the call from the NEA a couple months ago about receiving the award, she had a very physical reaction. “I started laughing uncontrollably. Then I started to cry. I couldn’t feel my hands,” she says. “Until yesterday when it was made public, I just kept thinking, ‘Is this real? Do they have the wrong Meghan Phillips?’”

While Phillips is still determining how to use the grant to advance her writing career, her first step is pretty simple: she’s buying a desk so she can stop writing at the kitchen table.

“I’m just so honored and so grateful that the NEA exists, and that it continues to offer support to people who are working in creative fields,” she says. “Or people like me who work full time and have kids and just scribble whenever they can.”