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Ink and Inspiration: Lincoln University’s Elijah Burrell's Journey to Poetic Success

Jenny Schaben | April 26th, 2024

“Poetry exists everywhere," says Lincoln University (LU) English Professor Elijah Burrell. "It is at its base the raw honey from the hive of language. Can we dream up a world that doesn’t include a poet’s mind writing lines like, ‘We / lurk late. We / Strike straight’ or ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no / evil’? How about ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ or ‘What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?’”

“These days we all move too fast," Burrell says, expanding on his own passion for poetry. "I like that poetry makes us slow down.” So, as we enter the month of April — National Poetry Month — we slow down to recognize Elijah Burrell — Lincoln University’s own professor of poetry.

“I’m a Blue Tiger, through and through,” Burrell says, noting his unique legacy-student-turned-professor perspective. Burrell received his bachelor's degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Lincoln University of Missouri, where his mother, an alumna of the School of Nursing, once studied.

Unbound Book Festvial

Elijah Burrell reads at Skylark Bookshop in Columbia, Missouri. 

Burrell continued his education at Bennington College in Vermont, earning a Master of Fine Arts in Writing and Literature. In 2012, he began teaching English and creative writing for LU’s English Department, housed in Humanities and Communications. He coordinates LU’s Omega Pi Chapter of the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. In addition, he advises the publications course annually, producing LU’s literary journal Arts & Letters

“Too often my students approach a poem as if unlocking it will require some secret knowledge of an ancient formula," Burrell says. "I want them — and you — to know that a poem is like any other piece of art — a painting, a song, a sculpture. You see it, you listen to it and you feel something. It’s when you begin to look at art like a gift meant to be unwrapped slowly, deliberately, that you can revel in its beauty or ugliness — its heartbreak or its capacity to brighten.”

Burrell with students

Elijah Burrell with students Chenia Walker, Jestine Lange and DeAni Blake-Britton at the 2023 Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society Convention in Denver, Colorado.

Burrell continuously strives to inspire students and their interest in the written word. He presents in his classroom the power of language to create connection, empathy and joy, which acts as a spark for the natural creativity students have within them. “I love that I don’t just teach in a classroom but that students can see me model my own writing life and maybe see that possibility in themselves, too," Burrell says. "I have made lifelong friends here — former students, faculty and staff. Lincoln makes that possible.” 

When Burrell is not teaching, he writes, publishes and connects with fellow writers. Burrell is the author of three collections of poetry: “Skies of Blur” (EastOver Press, 2024), “TROUBLER” (Aldrich Press, 2018) and “The Skin of the River” (Aldrich Press, 2014). His work has appeared in publications such as AGNI, The Hopkins Review, North American Review, Southwest Review, The Rumpus, Sugar House Review, Measure and many others.

Elijah Burrell's new book of poetry.Elijah Burrell's newest release, "Skies of Blur," navigates the depths of human connection and disconnection.

“Skies of Blur” was released earlier this year, garnering recognition from Kirkus Reviews as “a stirring and distinctively intimate compilation of poems.” Tupelo Quarterly and Publishers Weekly Booklife (where “Skies of Blur” was an Editor’s Pick) also highly recommended the collection. “Skies of Blur” is available wherever you buy books, and at Amazon, where it secured a spot on the New Poetry Releases Top 10 sales list.

In 2023, Elijah Burrell received the Missouri Governor’s Award for Excellence in Education. Recipients are recognized at the state level and awarded for their effective teaching and success in nurturing student achievement as tenured faculty members. He also received the 2018 Lincoln University College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. In addition, Burrell received the Jane Kenyon Scholarship at Bennington College and was a Claudia Emerson Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

Elijah Burrell

Ilester McRoberts and Elijah Burrell present the 2023 Ilester McRoberts Award to Kennedy Thompson during the Spring Reading Series in the SUC Ballroom at Lincoln University of Missouri.

“As an educator, when my students go on to live rewarding lives, I feel that victory," Burrell says when prompted to reflect on his most notable professional achievements. "You have to understand that I begin every semester thinking — convinced — the next Alice Walker or Gwendolyn Brooks is or will be sitting in my classroom; they don’t realize it yet. Several alums from our English program have gone on to be successful writers and academics. I take pride in that.”