scholarships for writers

I grew up thinking you’ll end up marrying your soulmate. I grew up thinking that none of us will do drugs or smoke and we’ll all wait until marriage to have sex. I grew up thinking parents will stay together forever. I grew up thinking friends will never grow apart. I grew up thinking I’ll have all the luck in the world.

Reality slowly caught up to me and told me that not all of us will get that fairytale ending we are hoping for.

OPPORTUNITY ALERT:  VSC has a special fellowship earmarked for black women! Get on it.  (And there are fellowships for other folks, too.)

Voices Rising Fellowship
This fellowship is for an African American woman fiction writer with demonstrable financial need. Given in honor of women writers of color such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston, whose voices have inspired so many, this award also comes with a $2,000 stipend to help offset costs associated with the residency, such as travel, childcare, lost wages, rent, etc..

More details here!

Adrienne Shelly June 24, 1966 – November 1, 2006

Shelly was born in New York as Adrienne Levine. She adopted Shelly as a stage name early in her teens as a tribute to her late father Shelly Levine. 

She made a name for herself as an actress in the early 90s in the American independent scene but also developed an interest in writing and directing around the same time. She made her feature film debut with Sudden Manhattan, which she also starred in, in 1996. 

In 2006 Shelly was murdered in a New York apartment that she was using as an office, with the murderer staging the scene to look like a suicide. Her husband’s insistence that she would never harm herself caused a renewed investigation into the case and her murderer was caught and convicted for her murder. A few months later her final film as both actress and director, Waitress, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was a commercial success and later spawned the hit musical of the same name in 2015. 

Despite her tragic and untimely death Shelly left a mark on the film world. Her husband created the Adrienne Shelly Foundation that awards grants and scholarships to female actors, writers and directors. The Women Film Critics Circle gives an annual Adrienne Shelly Award to the film that it finds “most passionately opposes violence against women.”

MFA and PoC: On Creating a Safe Place in the Aftermath of a Backlash by Swati Avasthi

Recently, at Hamline University’s MFAC residency, one faculty member gave a lecture that was ostensibly on censorship and kindness, but contained a myriad of micro-aggressions (including mocking the term “micro-aggression”).  Her lecture resulted in anger, hurt, and a sense of betrayal that lingered in our once safe space.

In the aftermath my workshop co-leader, Phyllis Root, and I sat, stunned and reeling, as we tried to figure out how we could repair the damage. How could we create a productive and trusting workshop environment after the havoc that had been wreaked on our program? We came to the question we needed to ask our students:  “How can we make this a safe place for you?”

That question became the focus of the remainder of the residency, as faculty and staff scrambled to repair our program, as we listened to and counseled students, and as we considered where our future might lie.

That question was asked again and again and we will continue asking it, looking for long-term, programmatic and structural answers. How can we make MFAs a safe place for PoCs and people from marginalized groups?

The purpose of any MFA program is to grow writers. And Hamline’s MFAC program grows writers for children. More and more the children we are writing for come from diverse backgrounds.  More and more they are from non-traditional, same-sex, or single parented families. It is vital that these children – whatever their race, orientation, gender identity, class, ability, or faith –see themselves in books, as heroes of their own stories, see that they are not alone. They need to find themselves in the words and characters and pages, and they need to feel, in the words of Julie Schumacher, “recognized and therefore relieved.” And we cannot do that, unless we create a safe space for writers of color and diverse voices.

“How can we make this a safe place for you?”

Before that lecture, I ran a collaging exercise with my students. In preparation, I asked the assistant director, Kelly Krebs, to get magazines so my students could use the magazines’ pictures in their collages.  When he asked what kinds of magazines, I said, “Places and people.” He gave me just that, but the images of people were not just the ubiquitous white faces featured in magazines; he’d made a clear effort to include as many people of color as possible.

I don’t know the word for what Kelly Krebs did. It was the opposite of a micro-aggression. It was a micro-support. Kelly’s selection reinforced that people like me mattered, that we belong in stories.

I was surrounded by micro-supports before, during, and after that harmful lecture: faculty immediately stood up at the end of that lecture to refute those painful words, ensuring that my repudiation wasn’t painted as “angry” or “sensitive”. I received texts, and emails that shared in my frustration and asked how can we make this space safe?.  

Everywhere, I witnessed micro-supports: students encouraged each other’s words; workshops devoted entire sessions to talk through what had happened; faculty recognized students for their commitment to diversity; Tim Federle tailored his graduation speech to help graduates and students process their hurt (Thank you, Tim!); applause abounded at the final dinner of residency for all students; flowers were given; hugs everywhere.  They were all gestures to un-silence, no—to amplify voices. In every micro-support, the subtext was:

You belong here.

All of which reminded me that Hamline’s MFAC had and will commit to diversity as a core value of our program. We have and will continue offering a scholarship for writers of color and another for fantasy writers that write toward themes of social justice; we have and will continue to bring in lecturers and experts in diversity; we have and will continue to diversify our faculty; we have and will continue the student & alumni run groups for PoCs and LGBTQIA (quiltbag) writers; we have and will continue to make our common read books from PoC and marginalized writers.

Now, we have galvanized our efforts and we will change the temperature. We will make our program a safe place. We are rewriting our core curriculum, including diversity not as auxiliary programming but, in the words of faculty member Marsha Wilson Chall, “as the lens through which all craft lessons are taught.” We are reworking our required reading list.  We will provide a mandatory intensive study of diversity as part of our curriculum. We are putting a rotation of diversity lectures in place. We are integrating diverse voices into our curriculum, using works by marginalized authors in all of our lectures, and we are seeking more ways to engage in institutionalized micro-supports.

Most of all we are listening and we are learning.  Most of all we are not quitting after this backlash. We are marshaling our support and we will do better. Our Director, Mary Rockcastle, has promised that.

We have some answers, but we will work harder until we can grow all kinds of writers for all kinds of readers, and above all, we will keep asking:

“How can we make this a safe place for you?”

Above all, we will keep working until every marginalized writer believes: you belong here.

Swati Avasthi is the author of two novels: Chasing Shadows and Split. She has been on faculty at Hamline since 2012 and is happy to chat with anyone about the program (or anything else writerly (except beer). Find her on twitter @SwatiAvasthi or via email at swatiavasthi [at] gmail [dot] com. She encourages you to talk to other faculty too, including Laura Ruby (who can talk about writing and vodka), Anne Ursu (who can talk about writing and cats), Emily Jenkins (who can talk about everything…intensely), or Gene Yang (who can not only talk about beer, but can open a bottle using just a countertop.).