2023 Emerging Voices Fellowship Hero Image

2023 Emerging Voices Fellows and Mentors

PEN America welcomes the 2023 Emerging Voices Fellows. Vera Blossom, Lindsay Ferguson, Joy McKinley, Jassmine Parks, Arianne Elena Payne, Zen Ren, Denise Rhone, Kristen Yoo Shim, Layli Shirani, D’mani Thomas, JJ Xiao, and Lucy Zhou will each receive $1,500, a professional headshot, one-year complimentary PEN membership, and partake in a five-month immersive mentorship program that includes virtually accessible creative writing workshops, visits from publishing professionals, and workshops that emphasize the business of books. This year’s mentors include: Fatimah Asghar, Anelise Chen, Alechia Dow, Meng Jin, Lisa Ko, Lilliam Li, Jasmine Mans, Airea D. Matthews, Deesha Philyaw, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Tanaïs, and Lidia Yuknavitch.

For the third consecutive application cycle the 12 fellows were selected from the largest applicant pool in the program’s history. The final selection committee included Leila Chatti, author of the poetry collection, Deluge; Marlon Peterson, author of the memoir, Bird Uncaged: An Abolitionist’s Freedom Song;  and Cleyvis Natera, author of the novel, Neruda on the Park   

The following talented writers were 2023 finalists: Stefan Bindley-Taylor, Diana Cejas, Shen Cobbs, Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, Ajla Dizdarevia, Lorena Hernández Leonard, AJ Martin, Julie Mehta, Tobi Orisarayi, and Shabana Sharif. 

Meet the 2023 Emerging Voices Fellows and Mentors below.

Vera Blossom

Vera Blossom (Fellow)

Chicago, IL
Pronouns: she/they

Vera Blossom is a Chicago-based Filipina-American writing about hunger, desperation, sex, and gender. She runs the weekly newsletter, How to Fuck Like a Girl.


Tanaïs (Mentor)

Tanaïs is the author of In Sensorium, winner of the 2022 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, and the critically acclaimed novel Bright Lines, which was a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award, and the Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize. An independent perfumer, their fragrance, beauty and design studio TANAÏS is based in New York City. Tanaïs will mentor Vera Blossom.

Lindsay Ferguson

Lindsay Ferguson (Fellow)

Columbus, OH
Pronouns: she/her

Lindsay Ferguson is a writer from Columbus, Ohio. In 2022, she was named a Tin House Scholar, and in 2021, she was a winner of the PEN America/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, appeared in Barrelhouse and Best Debut Short Stories 2021, and is forthcoming elsewhere.


Deesha Philyaw (Mentor)

Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church, and is being adapted for television by HBO Max with Tessa Thompson executive producing. Philyaw is also a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and the 2022-2023 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Deesha will mentor Lindsay Ferguson.


Joy McKinley (Fellow)

Media, PA
Pronouns: she/her

Joy Renee McKinley was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, taking yearly field trips to the Liberty Bell. Its revolutionary echoes and long-distant call for change rang loudly within her chest from a young age. 

Her heart for global justice has carried her from health education in Cameroon to international disaster relief in Dominica. Her work is an appeal to continuously reimagine a better world. 

She’s currently finalizing her first YA fantasy novel about one girl’s fight to find her voice at the center of a magical uprising.   

When she’s not writing, you’ll find Joy taking an internal journey on her yoga mat or (since teleportation, sadly, isn’t possible in real life) on a plane, taking a literal journey to one of the many countries on her travel bucket list.

Alechia Dow

Alechia Dow (Mentor)

Alechia Dow is a former pastry chef, librarian, and author of YA scifi-fantasies: The Sound of Stars (a Junior Library Guild Selection and Hal Clement ALA notable), The Kindred (Indie Next Kids Jan 2022 Pick, Locus Finalist, Bank Street College's Best Children's Book of 2023), A Song of Salvation, All's Fair(y) in Love & War (2025), several short anthology pieces, and middle grade stories Just a Pinch of Magic and The Cookie Crumbles which she co-authored with Tracy Badua. When not writing, you can find her having epic dance parties with her daughter, baking, reading, taking teeny adventures, and exploring her local food scene. Alechia will mentor Joy McKinley.

Jassmine Parks

Jassmine Parks (Fellow)

Romulus, MI
Pronouns: she/her

Jassmine Parks has received multiple fellowships and awards from Kresge Arts In Detroit (2021), Room Project (2022), InsideOut Literary Arts (2022-2024) and The Watering Hole (2022). Her work has been published through Obsidian: Literature & Arts In The African Diaspora, Room Object Anthology, SlamFind, All Def Poetry, and Wusgood? Magazine. She currently draws her light from her two children and husband. As a flower child she wishes to leave a legacy of thriving.

Fatimah Asghar

Fatimah Asghar (Mentor)

Fatimah Asghar is an artist who spans across different genres and themes. They have been featured in various outlets such as TIME, NPR, Teen Vogue and the Forbes 30 Under 30 List. Their first book of poems If They Come For Us explored themes of orphaning, family, the violence of the 1947 Partition of South Asia, the legacy of colonization, borders, shifting identity, and violence. Their debut novel, When We Were Sisters, from One World/Random House, was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the inaugural Carol Shield’s Prize. Along with Safia Elhillo they co-edited an anthology for Muslim people who are also women, trans, gender non-conforming, and/ or queer, Halal If You Hear Me, which was built around the radical idea that there are as many ways of being Muslim as there are Muslim people in the world. They are the writer and co-creator of the Emmy-nominated Brown Girls, a web series that highlights friendship among women of color that was in a development deal with HBO, and wrote and directed Got Game, a short film that follows a queer South Asian Muslim woman trying to navigate a kink party after being single, and wrote, directed and starred in Retrieval, a lyrical short film that follows the process of a soul retrieval in the aftermath of sexual assault. They are also a writer and co-producer on Ms. Marvel on Disney +, and wrote Episode 5, “Time and Again.” Fatimah will mentor Jassmine Parks.

Arianne Elena Payne

Arianne Elena Payne (Fellow)

Fairfax, VA
Pronouns: she/her

Arianne Elena Payne is a Black womanist writer, multidisciplinary creative, and aspiring historian from Chicago, IL. She has received the 2022 Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Prize, the 2022 Virginia Downs Poetry Award, and the 2019 Frederick Hartmann Poetry Prize. Her work has been featured in Voicemail Poems and TORCH Literary Arts, and is forthcoming in The Shenandoah Review, Hooligan Magazine, and The Indiana Review. Situated in the complexities and lyricism of Blackness, girlhood, and geographies of resistance—her work strives to take Black people and their histories seriously.

Airea D. Matthews

Airea D. Matthews (Mentor)

Airea D. Matthews’ first collection of poems is the critically acclaimed Simulacra, which received the prestigious 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. The collection explores longing, desire, and inheritance with power, insight, and intense emotion. New Yorker critic Dan Chiasson describes Matthews’s experimental forms as, “Fugues, text messages to the dead, imagined outtakes from Wittgenstein, tart mini-operas, fairy tales: Matthews is virtuosic, frantic, and darkly, very darkly, funny.” Matthews is also the author of Bread and Circus (Scribner US and Picador UK, 2023), a memoir-in-verse that is a bold poetic reckoning with the realities of class and race and their intergenerational effects.

For her writing, Matthews earned a 2020 Pew Fellowship as well as the 2017 Margaret Walker For My People award. In 2016, she received both the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the Louis Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Ireland, New York Times, Georgia Review, Callaloo, Gulf Coast, Best American Poetry, American Poet, The Rumpus, Tin House, Los Angeles Review of Books, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. Matthews holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania as well as an M.F.A. from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program and an M.P.A. from the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy, both at the University of Michigan. In 2022, she was named Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate. She is an associate professor and co-chairs the Creative Writing Department at Bryn Mawr College, where she was presented the Lindback Distinguished Teaching award. Airea will mentor Arianne Elena Payne.

Zen Ren

Zen Ren (Fellow)

Austin, TX
Pronouns: they/them

Zen Ren (任天和) is a queer first generation Chinese American writer and researcher in Austin, Texas. Their work has been published in Curbed, Asia Literary Magazine, Rosenfeld Media conferences, and selected as a finalist for Glimmer Train's Short Fiction Contest. They have attended the Kenyon Review workshops and served as a board member on Language, Please, a Google News/Vox Media resource on writing identity-based topics. They are currently working on their first novel about a friendship between two androids. Aside from writing, they love to sew, knit, and skate. You can say hi at zenrenwrites.com or @zenbyhand.

Lillian Li

Lillian Li (Mentor)

Lillian Li is the author of the novel Number One Chinese Restaurant, which was an NPR Best Book of 2018, and longlisted for the Women’s Prize and the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Granta, One Story, Bon Appetit, and Travel & Leisure. Lillian will mentor Zen Ren.

Denise Rhone

Denise Rhone (Fellow)

East Hartford, CT
Pronouns: she/her

Denise Rhone is a Puerto Rican writer, performer, and social justice advocate from Hartford, Connecticut. Her work strives to articulate the full, complex–and profoundly beautiful–humanity of marginalized people and communities like the one she is from. Her writing has been supported by Tin House, Aspen Words, and the Wesleyan Writers Conference, and she engages her local community through spoken word poetry and activist theater alongside other multidisciplinary artists. She is currently at work on her first novel.

Ingrid Rojas

Ingrid Rojas Contreras (Mentor)

Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Hailed as “original, politically daring, and passionately written” by  Vogue, her first novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree earned the silver medal winner in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, was longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, an Indie Next Pick, and a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection.  

Her debut memoir The Man Who Could Move Clouds was a National Book Award Finalist in Nonfiction and was named a Best Book of the Year by  TIME, People, NPR, Vanity Fair, and Boston Globe, among others. Rojas Contreras brings readers into her childhood, where her grandfather, Nono, was a renowned community healer gifted with “the secrets”: powers that included talking to the dead, fortunetelling, treating the sick, and moving the clouds. The Man Who Could Move Clouds interweaves enchanting family lore, Colombian history, and a reckoning with the bounds of reality. 

Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ essays and short stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The Cut, Nylon, and Guernica, among others. She has received numerous awards and fellowships from Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, VONA, Hedgebrook, the Camargo Foundation, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. Rojas Contreras is a Visiting Writer at the University of San Francisco. Ingrid will mentor Denise Rhone.

Kristen Shim

Kristen Yoo Shim (Fellow)

San Diego, CA
Pronouns: she/her

Kristen Yoo Shim is a fiction writer based in San Diego, California. Her short story Ocean View was selected as a runner-up for the Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize in 2022. She is currently at work on a short story collection that explores themes of identity, community, and economic mobility.

Meng Jin

Meng Jin (Mentor)

Meng Jin is the author of the novel Little Gods (Custom House, 2020), and the story collection, Self-Portrait with Ghost (Mariner Books, 2022). A Kundiman fellow, her books have been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner, LA Times First Fiction Prize, NYPL Young Lions Award, and other honors, and her short fiction has been anthologized in The Pushcart Prizes and Best American Short Stories. Meng will mentor Kristen Shim.

Layli Shirani

Layli Shirani (Fellow)

Fairfax, CA
Pronouns: she/her

Layli Shirani is an Iranian-American writer and civil rights attorney. Her work has appeared in River Teeth and in an anthology titled Let Me Tell You Where I've Been: New Writing By Women of the Iranian Diaspora. She is a 2023 Aspen Words Emerging Writer and she was selected for the 2022 Lighthouse Book Project, mentored by Vauhini Vara. Layli lives in Fairfax, California and is currently at work on a memoir about revolution, war and the epigenetics of loss in the wake of exile. She is on Twitter and Instagram @lakateh.


Lidia Yuknavitch (Mentor)

Lidia Yuknavitch is the National Bestselling author of the novels Thrust, The Book of Joan, The Small Backs of Children, winner of the Ken Kesey 2016 Oregon Book Award in fiction, Dora: A Headcase, Verge, a collection of short fictions, and Allegories of Violence, a critical book on war and narrative. Her widely acclaimed experimental memoir The Chronology of Water was a finalist for the PEN Center USA award for creative nonfiction and winner of a PNBA and Oregon Book Award; the memoir is currently being adapted for film by Kristen Stewart. The Misfit's Manifesto is a collaborative book based on her TED Talk On the Beauty of Being a Misfit (with over 4 million views). She is the founder of Corporeal Writing in Oregon. She is a very good swimmer. Lidia will mentor Layli Shirani.

D'mani Thomas

D’mani Thomas (Fellow)

Oakland, CA
Pronouns: he/they

D'mani Thomas is a writer from Oakland, California (Ohlone territory). He’s interested in the tiny moments that capture attention spans. He has received invitations to fellowship from The Watering Hole, Foglifter, Afro Urban Society, and UC Berkeley’s Art & Research Center via The Engaging the Senses Foundation. Their work can be found in: The Auburn Avenue, The Shade Journal, The Ana, and elsewhere. In 2023, they became a finalist for the 2022 Penrose Poetry Prize, and their debut, Grown-up Elementary, was published through Nomadic Press. Outside of poetry, catch them studying horror movies, dancing, and eating too many fries.

Jasmine Mans

Jasmine Mans (Mentor)

Jasmine Mans is a Black poet and performance artist from Newark, New Jersey. Jasmine’s poetry book, BLACK GIRL, CALL HOME (Penguin Random House) has been named one of Oprah’s Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books and a TIME Magazine Must Read, to name a few; and Jasmine herself named as Essence’s #1 Contemporary Black Poet To Know. 

Jasmine most recently collaborated with the Brooklyn Ballet on an original performance piece titled “Unnatural Surrounding” at the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music. Prior to this, she opened for Nikole Hannah-Jones at the launch of The 1619 Project at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and co-hosted The Kennedy Center’s Arts Across America digital series alongside renowned writer, Jason Reynolds. 

Jasmine’s poetry has gone viral many times on YouTube. Jasmine is a MUSE100 icon and can currently be heard as the voice of Ulta Beauty’s national “Muse” campaign, honoring Black women in the hair and beauty industry. She has opened packed shows for Mos Def, Janelle Monae, and Goapele, and performed at such esteemed venues as the Kennedy Center, Broadway's New Amsterdam Theater, the Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion, and the Sundance Film Festival. Mans also participated in Brave New Voices, an 8-episode poetry documentary on HBO. Jasmine will mentor D’mani Thomas.

JJ Xiao

JJ Xiao (Fellow)

Marysville, Indiana
Pronouns: she/her

Jingjing is a Chinese-American from Kentucky and Beijing. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times.

Lisa Ko

Lisa Ko (Mentor)

Lisa Ko is the author of the nationally best-selling novel The Leavers, which was a 2017 National Book Award for Fiction finalist, won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and was a finalist for the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories and her essays and nonfiction in The New York Times, The Believer, and elsewhere. Her second novel, Memory Piece, will be published in spring 2024 by Riverhead Books. Lisa will mentor JJ Xiao.

Lucy Zhou

Lucy Zhou (Fellow)

Oakland, CA
Pronouns: she/her

Lucy Zhou is a writer based in the Bay Area. Her writing has appeared in Nat. Brut, The Offing, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2020, she received an honorable mention for the Felicia Farr Lemmon Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets. She is a Tin House and VONA alum. You can find her on Twitter @lrenazhou.

Anelise Chen

Anelise Chen (Mentor)

Anelise Chen was born in Taipei, and moved with her family to Los Angeles in 1990. She earned her B.A. from U.C. Berkeley and her M.F.A. from New York University. She is now Director of Undergraduate Studies in Creative Writing at Columbia University, where she also teaches fiction. Chen is the author of So Many Olympic Exertions (Kaya Press), a finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. She is a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 Awardee. Her essays and reviews have appeared in numerous publications such as The New York Times, NPR, The Atlantic, Believer Magazine, BOMB, and The New Republic. She has received residencies and fellowships from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Blue Mountain Center, Banff Centre, the Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. She is currently at work on another book, Clam Down (One World Random House), based on her mollusk column for the Paris Review. She lives in New Haven with her family. Anelise will mentor Lucy Zhou.