New York University’s Creative Writing Program will host the 2010 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards Reading on Friday, September 24, 7 p.m. at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, located at 58 W. 10th Street (between 5th and 6th Aves.).
The event is free and open to the public. Seating is on a first-come, first served basis. For more information, call 212.998.8816 or visit www.cwp.fas.nyu.edu. Subways: F, L (6th Avenue); 1 (Christopher Street); A, B, C, D, E, F (West 4th Street).
The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program was created by celebrated writer Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) to identify and support women writers of exceptional talent in the early stages of their writing careers. Grants of $25,000 are given to writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry to make writing time available and for such specific purposes as child care, research and related travel costs.
The women writers featured in this event are: Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams; Rachel Aviv; Sara Elizabeth Johnson; Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich; Laura Newbern; and Tiphanie Yanique (bios of the winners are listed below).
Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams (nonfiction) is working on a memoir, The Following Sea, which explores the lives of her parents, an American father and a mother from the Northern Mariana Islands, who raised her on a yacht in the South Pacific. She says of the book project, “Even though it seemed we were as close as a family could be for 10 years, their marriage fell apart and our lives went off in three different directions so that later, I would look back and find my own childhood recondite, shifting. After the split, my mother had returned to her home and my father had moved across several countries, married seven more times, and had a number of other children. As for myself, I never lived with my parents again after the age of 12. The book is a way to recover our past and trace how the strange and fantastic lives that have happened since still connect us.” Abrams lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, and teaches at UNC Wilmington, where she received her B.A. and M.F.A. She plans to use her grant to lessen her workload and devote the next year to finishing her book.
Rachel Aviv’s (nonfiction) writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The Nation, The Believer, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and explores such diverse subjects as Braille literacy among the blind, present-day Christian missionaries who convert children, and the neuroscience of dreams. She has a B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She has taught classes on narrative medicine and is a 2009 recipient of a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Aviv is working on a book about adolescents and young adults in the pre-stages of schizophrenia, and a piece on this subject is forthcoming in Harper’s. She plans to follow a small group of patients from a Maine psychiatric hospital for the next year and write about their lives during this time. She says, “I am drawn to this clinic because it offers a rare glimpse into a community of adolescents self-consciously struggling to maintain their grasp on reality.” Her Writer’s Award will allow her to spend extended periods of time at the clinic for research and cut back on freelance work so she can concentrate on this project for the next year. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Sara Elizabeth Johnson (poetry) lives in Los Angeles, California, and received a B.A. from Cornell University and an M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. Her poems have most recently appeared in Best New Poets 2009, New England Review, and Iron Horse Literary Review, and she is working on a first collection of poems. She writes, “Deriving much inspiration from ancient and medieval nautical, cartographic, and navigational technologies, my current book-length manuscript, Vessel, arises from a ‘lovesickness’ in that it examines the wide and almost palpable distance that lies between one body and another, and the desire to cross that distance—that sea—into the lover’s body.” Johnson received a fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in 2009-2010, and her Rona Jaffe Award will allow her to maintain her momentum from this residency and delay finding full-time work in order to focus on her book during the next year. Her nominator states, “Sara has impressed me with her agile and probing intellect, a wide interest in contemporary poetry, a self-possession rare among writers her age, and a poetic imagination both fiery and magnificent.”
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (nonfiction) received her M.F.A. from Emerson College in 2009. She also holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.A. from Columbia University. Her essays appear in The Bellingham Review and Fourth Genre, and she has received fellowships from the Millay Colony and the Ragdale Foundation. She is working on her first book, Any One of Us, a personal narrative that combines memoir with an inquiry into a murder and the murderer’s past. She states, “In 2003, as a Harvard Law student who passionately opposed the death penalty, I took a job defending murderers in Louisiana, one of whom, I knew, was a sex offender. I had grown up being sexually abused, and to me this man was the worst of the worst—and the ultimate test of my commitment. The choices I have made and the work I have done since leaving Louisiana have put me in the unique position to tell a deeply personal and illuminating tale of this hidden world.” Marzano-Lesnevich plans to use her Rona Jaffe Award to delay full-time work and finish the first draft of this book. She currently lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and teaches creative writing at Boston’s Grub Street.
Laura Newbern (poetry) is an associate professor of English at Georgia College & State University. She received a B.A. from Barnard, an M.A. from N.Y.U., and an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College. Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2007, The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, and Triquarterly. Her collection, Love and the Eye, was selected by Claudia Rankine to receive the 2010 Kore Press First Book Award and will be published this fall. Newbern’s new manuscript, tentatively titled Nightfall, focuses on her current home of Milledgeville, Georgia—her neighborhood and a local state hospital that was once the largest asylum in the world. She says of her project, “Presently, I live in a small town, and I find myself, many evenings, on my porch, watching the movements of my neighbors. But I also mean ‘nightfall’ in the sense of mental darkness. My interest lies in the notion of ‘asylum’ as inviolable refuge, in the salubrious environments created for sometimes terrible isolation.” Newbern will use her Writer’s Award to take a semester off from teaching to work on this book.
Tiphanie Yanique’s (fiction) first book, How to Escape from a Leper Colony: Novella and Stories, was published by Graywolf Press in 2010. She received her B.A. from Tufts University and her M.F.A. from the University of Houston. Originally from the Virgin Islands, her work is centered in the Caribbean and has received the Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Pushcart Prize, and a Fulbright in Creative Writing. Her fiction has also appeared in Callaloo, Transition Magazine, American Short Fiction, and London Magazine. Her nominator describes her novel in progress, tentatively titled The Novel of Love, as “an extremely talented and compelling piece of work, filled with many voices and evoking the mystery of the Caribbean.” Yanique states, “I wonder what a serious modern literary romance might reveal about the particular black experience of love in the New World.” Her Writer’s Award will allow her to pay for elder and child care next year so she can focus more on her writing. Yanique lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is assistant professor of creative writing and Caribbean literature at Drew University.
The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program was created by celebrated writer Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) to identify and support women writers of exceptional talent in the early stages of their writing careers. Grants of $25,000 are given to writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry to make writing time available and for such specific purposes as child care, research and related travel costs. A selection committee reviews nominations by appointed writers, editors, and scholars from across the country. The selectors and nominators serve anonymously. Direct applications and unsolicited nominations are not accepted by the Foundation. Since the program began in 1995, the Foundation has awarded more than $1 million to emergent women writers. For more information, visit www.ronajaffefoundation.org.