hello again

People apologize all the time on blogs for their lack of posts–I know! But I do feel I’ve neglected this place, where I’ve enjoyed sharing books I’ve loved, kayaking photos, musings on rural life, and news about MQ.

The truth is I’ve been too busy, writing and teaching, to post much. I started this school year teaching five classes (!) at my charter school in Saxapahaw, NC. But I’m writing this morning in between the two (!) classes I’m teaching this semester, from Saxapahaw’s 22 Cups coffee shop (pictured above). In a little while I’ll teach my second class, then go home to work on my novel. It’s great!

And it would not be possible without support from two organizations: the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. This past summer, I was awarded an Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council. The fellowship has not only given me the ability to carve out time for writing, but also to meet some incredible writers and visual artists from across North Carolina, including my new friend and neighbor Marjorie Hudson, author of Accidental Birds of the Carolinas; poet and playwright Howard Craft, author of the Jade City radio drama; playwright Chaunesti Webb, whose I Love My Hair When It’s Good and Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive debuts at Manbites Dog this March, and photographer Ken Abbott, who has some remarkable photographs up right now at South by Southeast Magazine.

Then, in the fall, I learned that I was awarded a 2012 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, along with 40 other American writers. I couldn’t believe it, and spent the couple of weeks between finding our and the official announcement reading everything I could about the history of the fellowship, which celebrated forty years of support for writers in 2006. The forty-year celebration brochure includes the names of past fellows, including: Sherman Alexie, Marianne Boruch, Paul Bowles, John Berryman, Ernest J. Gaines, Kay Ryan, Lydia Davis, Edward P. Jones, Kaye Gibbons, Louise Erdrich… it’s a long and estimable list.

I want to say how important it is to me that both of these fellowships were application-based and open to anyone who met the criteria. There are quite a few fellowships and opportunities for writers that have a private (and somewhat mysterious) selection process. Some incredible writers are supported through these programs, but it is hard to imagine that they manage to find and support many rural charter high school teachers. I’m so grateful that the NEA is still here, supporting writers and artists both struggling and established (and also the cultural institutions that make our lives better, like small presses, arts centers, performance spaces, and literary journals).

In 2006, NEA Literature Specialist Amy Stolls wrote:

Fellows are freelance writers and university lecturers. But they are also registered nurses and gardeners, diplomats and farmers. One Fellow I called about winning a grant said she was a mother of 12. Another said he had been volunteering as a subject for medical experiments to make money and he was glad not to have to do that anymore.

Most Fellows will tell you the money they received provided an essential boost to their career. But they also will tell you the benefits of an NEA grant extend far beyond the cash. They’ll tell you it allowed family, friends, and colleagues to accept them as serious writers, that it brought them into first or further contact with editors, publishers, and other writers at the national level. It got them invitations to conduct workshops, give readings, or teach. It allowed them to undertake longer or different kinds of work, to take risks, to write with confidence. And it gave them a desire to give back to their country.

In his final report at the completion of his FY 1999 grant, poet Dainis Hazners from Wyoming recounted the following anecdote:

At the feed store, buying grain for my goats and chickens, I was introduced to the new owner as Our Local Poet. “He’s the one got    that big award. Quite the honor.”

“I was … shocked,” I offered.

“You mean that NBA outfit back East?” the new guy asked.

“National Endowment for the Arts,” I said, meekly. “Washington.”

“That’s it. I’m proud to know you!” he grinned.

“It’s amazing to me,” wrote Hazners, that “even after a year, people remember. I belong to them, in a funny kind of way—like the mountains and the bad weather, I’m out there somewhere.”

I loved what Amy Stolls and Dainis Hazners had to say. And I love and am so grateful for my new schedule! I look forward to telling you more about new work, books I’m reading, and random stuff very soon.

P.S. Novelist Matt Ruff, a previous NEA Fellow who was on the selection committee this year, blogged about the work of his favorite new Fellows here. I was so happy to be included on his list! (Ruff’s new novel, The Mirage, debuts this week and is getting great reviews.)

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