Creative writing professor awarded Arlin G. Meyer Prize by Lilly Fellows Program


MACON – Dr. Gordon Johnston, professor of creative writing in Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was recently awarded the 2022 Arlin G. Meyer Prize in Imaginative Writing by the Lilly Fellows Program.

The Arlin G. Meyer Prize is presented biennially to a full-time faculty member from a college or university in the Lilly Network of Church-Related Colleges and Universities whose work exemplifies the practice of the Christian artistic or scholarly vocation in relation to any pertinent subject matter or literary and artistic style.

The award recognizes Dr. Johnston’s first full-length collection of poems, Scaring the Bears, published by Mercer University Press.

“There is a hard-won wisdom in these poems, but they are never didactic or preachy… and while their ultimate meanings are profoundly serious, the poems benefit from the charms of humble speakers, frequently funny and self-deprecating,” read the award letter from the Lilly Fellows Program.

Dr. Johnston is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who has been teaching literature at Mercer since 1996. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Shorter College, master’s degree in British literature and creative writing from the University of Georgia, and Ph.D. in American literature from the University of Georgia.

“The Meyer Prize is an abiding validation of Scaring the Bears and of my work as a writer,” said Dr. Johnston. “I feel honored to be among the other poets, artists and composers who have received the prize.”

Scaring the Bears book cover

Dr. Johnston has written two chapbooks, Durable Goods (Finishing Line Press) and Gravity’s Light Grip (Perkolator Press), co-authored a guide to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park and published poems and prose in The Georgia Review, Southern Poetry Review and other journals.

His first book of fiction, Seven Islands of the Ocmulgee – River Stories, is forthcoming from Mercer University Press in February.

Dr. Johnston, a past director of the Georgia Poetry Circuit from 1996-2007, also writes poems on clay pages that are wood-fired into stoneware by retired Mercer art professor Roger Jamison.

“I had the opportunity to be at the Lilly Fellows annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, where Dr. Johnston was presented with the Arlin G. Meyer Prize,” said Dr. Anita Olson Gustafson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The Lilly Fellows Program selected Dr. Johnston’s work from nominations submitted by universities around the nation. The award is a testimony to the quality of Dr. Johnson’s creative work, the strength of Mercer’s creative writing program and the excellent reputation of Mercer University Press. It is a well-deserved award.”

Founded in 1991, the Lilly Fellows Program seeks to strengthen the quality and shape the character of church-related institutions of higher learning.

First, the program offers postdoctoral teaching fellowships for early career scholars who wish to prepare themselves for positions of leadership within church-related institutions. Second, it supports young men and women of exceptional academic talent who are exploring vocations in church-related higher education during their first three years of graduate school in the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program. Third, it maintains a collaborative National Network of Church-Related Colleges and Universities that sponsors a variety of activities designed to strengthen the religious nature of church-related institutions.

The National Network represents a diversity of denominational traditions, institutional types and geographical locations. Mercer became a member in 1997.

About the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences serves as the academic cornerstone of one of America’s oldest and most distinctive institutions of higher learning. The oldest and largest of Mercer’s 12 schools and colleges, it is a diverse and vibrant community, enrolling more than 1,900 students, dedicated to learning and service through the practice of intellectual curiosity, respectful dialogue and responsible citizenry. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers majors in more than 30 areas of study, including more than a dozen pre-professional academic tracks, with classes taught by an outstanding faculty of scholars. In 2015, Mercer was awarded a chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society that recognizes exceptional achievement in the arts and sciences. For more information, visit

Featured photo by John Legg