New York University’s Creative Writing Program will host the 2011 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards Reading on Friday, September 23, 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, M (14th Street/6th Avenue); 1 (Christopher Street); A, B, C, D, E, F (West 4th Street).
The women writers featured in this event are: Melanie Drane; Apricot Irving; Fowzia Karimi; Namwali Serpell; Merritt Tierce; and JoAnn Wypijewski (bios of the winners are listed below).
Melanie Drane (Poetry) is working on a new manuscript of poems entitled The Language Orchard, which explores the profound experience of her sister’s severe aphasia after a recent stroke, and their efforts to recover her language. She has also completed a book-length manuscript entitled The City of Blademakers, reflecting her many years living in Japan. Drane received her B.A. from Princeton, her M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her M.F.A. from the University of Southern Maine at Stonecoast. Her work has appeared in Indiana Review, New South, The Iowa Review, and The Huffington Post. She has received the UK National Poetry Competition First Prize, as well as a North Carolina Arts Council literary fellowship, and served as writer-in-residence at Interlochen Center for the Arts from 2002-2004. Until recently, she was the director and instructor of writing workshops of Basho’s Cabin. Her Rona Jaffe Award will allow her to rent a writing space and hire a part-time companion to stay with her sister while she works on this new collection.
Apricot Irving’s (Nonfiction) work in progress, The Missionary’s Daughter, is about growing up on a missionary compound in Haiti. It is a deeply personal story about her father’s work and devotion to the country and its people and the personal toll it took on his family. It is also the larger story of Haiti and the explorers and reformers that have shaped its history. Irving plans to use her Writer’s Award for writing space and childcare, as well as to return to Haiti for an extended period to re-immerse herself in the language and culture, “to re-absorb into the bloodstream those elusive details” that she wants to capture in this book. Her work has appeared on This American Life and an excerpt from her memoir will be published in More magazine later this year. She received her B.A. from University of Tennessee-Knoxville and her M.A. in creative nonfiction from Portland State University. She is a freelance writer and founder and director of Boise Voices Oral History Project, a creative neighborhood response to gentrification.
Fowzia Karimi (Fiction) received her B.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Mills College. Originally from Kabul, she fled Afghanistan in 1980 at the age of six. Karimi is currently working on a novel, Above Us the Milky Way, based on her early childhood in America. She says, “We remained connected to our larger family through memory and story and from a very young age it seemed vitally important to me to take this task on earnestly—witnessing, collecting, and over time stringing memories together into narrative.” Her novel is a lyrical and surreal retelling of these family stories, combining traditional story-telling with elements of fairy tales. Karimi plans to use her Writer’s Award to devote more time to her writing and to visit her larger family, who now mostly live in Germany and Canada. She hopes to capture through interviews and photographs her family stories before they are lost. “I see my current novel as part of a series of books about my family, my ancestors, about their migrations, about the influence of war on their lives.”
Namwali Serpell (Fiction) describes her novel in progress, Breaking, as an “epic set over the course of the last century about three Zambian families—black, white, brown—caught in a cycle of desire and retribution.” She has almost completed her first novel Furrow, a fusion of a family drama, a grifter noir, and a love story. Serpell received her B.A. from Yale and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. She is an assistant professor in the English department at the University of California, Berkeley, and will be a visiting fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center this year. Her work has appeared in Callaloo, Bidoun, and The Believer. Her first published story, “Muzungu,” was selected by Alice Sebold for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 2009 and was shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing. Serpell will use her Rona Jaffe Award next year to take time away from teaching in order to concentrate on her writing. Specifically, she will travel to Zambia, where she was born and lived until her family moved to the U.S. in 1989, to conduct essential research for Breaking.
Merritt Tierce’s (Fiction) first published story, “Suck It,” appeared in Southwest Review and was selected by ZZ Packer for inclusion in New Stories from the South 2008. She is currently working on a collection of linked stories, Love Me Back, loosely based on her years of waiting tables at a Texas steakhouse. Her nominator writes, “Merritt’s fiction demonstrates a high degree of craftsmanship, and in addition resonates with genuine wisdom and experience. Her stories reflect a full and fierce engagement with her material. Her work contains the real stuff of life, and she is absolutely fearless in the things she’s willing to confront.” She received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in May 2011 and returned to waiting tables in Dallas. Her Jaffe Award will allow her to work fewer hours at the restaurant and give her the “emotional, physical, and creative energy” to complete her book during the next year.
JoAnn Wypijewski (Nonfiction) is a freelance editor and writer. She is working on a nonfiction book titled Valiant to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which explores the general decline of America, its economy and political culture over the past forty years traced through the history of her car. She has spent the past year and a half on the road in her 1963 Plymouth Valiant convertible researching the book. Wypijewski received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University and was an editor at The Nation for eighteen years. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The L.A. Times, Mother Jones, among others, where she has written on such subjects as Abu Ghraib, Matthew Shepard, and sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. She currently writes the “Carnal Knowledge” column on sex, politics and culture for The Nation. Her awards include a 2010 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, a 2006 Lannan Writing Fellowship, and a GLADD Media Award. She will use her Rona Jaffe Award to work full-time on her book next year.
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.