Gloria Muñoz steps on stage to accept her award from the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.
A big cheer rolled through the Morean Center for Clay on March 4 as Eckerd College Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Gloria Muñoz approached the stage to accept her 2022 MUSE Award from the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance (SPAA).
“It felt like a reunion of the arts,” Muñoz says. “It was so wonderful to reconnect and see so many artists from the area.”
SPAA—a local nonprofit dedicated to raising funds and advocating on behalf of St. Petersburg arts professionals and creative businesses—honored Muñoz in the category of Literary Arts, one of the many accolades she has received for her poetry collection Danzirly / Dawn’s Early. In addition to the 2019 Ambroggio Prize from the Academy of American Poets (which included the book’s 2021 publication by the University of Arizona Press), Danzirly earned the gold medal in poetry from the 2021 Florida Book Awards.
“I don’t expect anything typically,” Muñoz says, laughing. “So when I got the news two weeks ago, I was surprised. All the winners have been invited to a banquet in Tallahassee on April 7. I’m also looking forward to the notoriety and the chance to showcase my work, do readings and create programming.”
Celebrating with MUSE Award winner Muñoz are (left to right): Creative Arts Collegium Chair and Associate Professor of Creative Writing K.C. Wolfe, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Suzan Harrison, Vice President for Strategy and Chief Operating Officer Kanika Tomalin, and Associate Dean of Faculty Jessica Thonen.
She can’t recall how long she worked on the poetry collection. Some of the pieces were published in literary magazines before she gathered them into a complete work. As a child of Colombian immigrants and a first-generation American, collegian and creative, Muñoz knew she wanted to publish a collection that included both English and Spanish, but the process of getting a complex linguistic work published required patience. All the while, she continued teaching at Eckerd, encouraging students to keep at their dreams along the way.
As Jaime Jaillet, a senior animal studies student from Essex, Connecticut, sat in the MUSE Awards crowd screaming for her professor, she received a revelation about what she was witnessing.
“Honestly, while I was talking with my friends, I always thought I’d leave St. Pete after graduation,” Jaime recalls. “But now I think maybe I shouldn’t. St. Pete seems like the place to be for the arts. It was all so amazing, and the community is really inclusive and supportive here.”
Jaime was one of four Eckerd College students in the MUSE Awards audience at Muñoz’s invitation. They were joined by Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Suzan Harrison, Vice President for Strategy and Chief Operating Officer Kanika Tomalin, Associate Dean of Faculty and Theatre Professor Jessica Thonen, and Creative Arts Collegium Chair and Associate Professor of Creative Writing K.C. Wolfe.
“As a discipline and collegium, we’re very proud of her and see this as more confirmation of the great breadth of knowledge she brings to the classroom and our community of scholars and artists,” Wolfe says.
The evening included dance, music, immersive art experiences and more. Jaime dreams of pursuing a career in conservation communication, and has bolstered her creative writing minor by taking Intro to Creative Writing, Intro to Creative Nonfiction, and Lyric Essay with Muñoz—as well as serving all four of her years as an editor with the Eckerd Review literary anthology, where Muñoz serves as faculty adviser to the student staff. “She deserves all the recognition for her hard work,” Jaime says.
Muñoz notes that the award is more encouragement for her to continue her work in mentoring local writers but also expand her work in the literary community by making programs that are free or very low-cost. Her goal is to highlight local talent and connect them with national traveling artists.
“There’s an amazing community of writers here,” Muñoz says, “and I hope to be a bridge for a lot of people.”