How do grants and fellowships ignite a writing career? Each month, I'll talk to a writer who has used grants to fuel a career. This month I found Kim Stafford on a two-month writing retreat at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology near the Oregon coast.
The first thing the caller asked Kim Stafford was: "Are you sitting down?" Then, she told him that he had been awarded a $20,000 grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council to support his next writing project: "Pilgrim at Home: Local Encounters beyond the Epoch of the Car."
The project will find him roaming the neighborhoods of his hometown of Portland, Oregon and recording as a poet, songwriter and essayist what he finds. He will invite the place and the people to speak to him. His project concludes with readings in the four quadrants of Portland to give back to the community what he discovers.
"My project for the RACC fellowship... is to wander," wrote Stafford following the award announcement. "[I will] venture on foot or by bike or bus to Powell Butte, to the deepest shadows of Forest Park, to neighborhoods and river banks, to the source of stream, path, intuitive whim -- and there to report in writing on the people I meet, what I learn from resonant places, what wants to be said through me, and to consider what our local experience might be like after the era of the automobile."
The $20,000 enabled Stafford to resign from one of several teaching jobs and to "make space for the writing, rather than fit the writing around my jobs," he said.
Was there any downside to receiving this grant? "It's both heartening and troubling to receive a grant, I find," Stafford said. "Heartening because this is a project I really want to do, troubling because I feel for my writer friends who also applied. Is my work worthy?"
To apply for a RACC Literature Fellowship artists must be established in their disciplines for at least 10 years and have lived in the Portland area for at least five years. The application process is highly competitive and applicants are chosen by a panel of esteemed Portland-based writers and artists.
What advice does Stafford have for writers who want to stand out from the crowd? He suggests:
1. Propose a project you would love to do, money or no.
2. Apply to an organization you deeply respect, and take the time to get to know the priorities and track record of that organization's giving.
3. Figure out what is missing so far in that history of giving, that only you could provide.
4. Take the time to describe in detail what you would do, a kind of calendar of actions from opening inquiry, through engaged production, to sharing discoveries with the community following the completion of the project.
5. Trust your instincts at every stage of the process. The funder needs your unique way of seeing things.
Gigi Rosenberg's essays and how-to articles have appeared in the Seal Press anthology The Maternal is Political, Parenting, Writer's Digest, The Writer and on Oregon Public Radio. She receives rave reviews for the grant writing workshops she leads at NYC's Foundation Center and Chicago's Self Employment in the Arts. She has performed her monologues throughout the Pacific Northwest and now coaches writers how to give stellar public readings and write winning grant applications.