The Creative Writing Program will host the 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards Reading on Fri., Sept. 19, 7 p.m. at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House.


This year’s winners are: Olivia Clare, Karen Hays, Danielle Jones-Pruett, T.L. Khleif, Mara Naselli, and Solmaz Sharif. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Rona Jaffe Foundation provides support to women writers in the early stages of their writing careers.

The event is free and open to the public, with seating on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call 212.998.8816 or visit Subways: F, L, M (14th Street/6th Avenue); 1 (Christopher Street); A, B, C, D, E, F, M (West 4th Street).

Olivia Clare (Fiction) received a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree in fiction from the University of Southern California, an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is a Black Mountain Institute Ph.D. Fellow in Literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While her first book of poems, The 26-Hour Day, is forthcoming from New Issues in 2015, her Writer’s Award is recognizing her work in fiction. Her stories have appeared in Granta Online, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review Online, and The Yale Review. Her first published story, “Pétur,” appeared in Ecotone and received a 2014 O. Henry Prize. She has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Vermont Studio Center, among others. Clare is working on a short story collection and a first novel. Her novel, The Norns, takes place in a small, unnamed town in post-Katrina Louisiana. Clare says, “Three mysterious, mute women wash up on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Louis, a sixty-five-year-old Vietnam veteran, discovers the women and takes them in. Without words, they transform a quiet and restrained man into a man of voraciousness and decadence.” Clare plans to use her Writer’s Award to travel to Germany, where part of her novel takes place, and take time off next summer to devote herself to these projects. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Karen Hays (Nonfiction) received her B.S. in geology from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and her M.S. in hydrogeology from the University of Minnesota. In 2001, she left her career in the earth sciences to turn her attention to raising a family. Her essays are idiosyncratic and far-reaching and have appeared in The Iowa Review, Conjunctions, Passages North, and The Normal School. She has received The Iowa Review Award for Nonfiction and her essay, “The Clockwise Detorsion of Snails,” was a “Notable Nonrequired Reading” in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011. Hays is working on a collection of essays entitled, On Frothy Elegance: Notes of a Show Me State Native. She says of the work, “Both memoir and research-driven, its essays will tap a range of fields from etymology to gender studies, agriculture, archaeology, and competitive eating. They will grapple with questions of fate and chance and attempt to parse the desperate human impulse to limn the ineffable, to recreate home and identity through words in spite of the well known and maddening insufficiencies of language.” Her Writer’s Award will allow her to delay returning to the workforce for a year and pay for child care so she can focus on this book. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her family.

Danielle Jones-Pruett (Poetry) received a B.A. in English and psychology from Jacksonville State University, and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best New Poets 2014, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cider Press Review, Southern Poetry Review, and many others. She recently finished her first collection of poems, and is eager to begin work on a new project. The poems are set in Anniston, Alabama, where she grew up, during the period when a major chemical company’s long history of polluting the area finally came to light. “While Anniston provides a rich backdrop for many of the political topics that plague America as a whole, it is important to me that the poems be more than political manifestos,” she says. “For this reason, I’ve chosen to tell this story through the voice of a young, female speaker, whose personal story—and the tragedy of her own family—converge gradually and subtly with the history of the town.” Jones-Pruett currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with her husband and sons, and is program coordinator for the Writers House at Merrimack College. She plans to use her Writer’s Award to visit Alabama for research, and for child care over the next two years.

T. L. Khleif (Fiction) received a B.A. from Brown University, an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University, and an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan, where she is a lecturer. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The New England Review and The Normal School, and she is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship. Khleif is working on a novel tentatively titled The Absence of Layla Halabi. She says, “The novel, set in Damascus, takes place in the late 1960s and early 2000s—both periods when, in different ways, the forces leading up to the present conflict were gathering energy. The narrative centers on three point-of-view protagonists: Abu Nashid is a revered musician who, at the height of his stardom, falls out of favor with the regime; Ismail is a gifted college student struggling to reorder his life after spending time in prison for telling a political joke; and Layla is a young woman striving to avert an unwanted marriage who develops a clandestine relationship with Ismail.” Khleif will use her Writer’s Award to take time off from teaching next year to focus on this novel full time. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Mara Naselli (Nonfiction) is working on a collection of essays, Bodies in Motion, about power and inversions of power, notably expressed in representations of the horse in art and culture. The essays explore the nature of leverage, control, and privilege through subjects such as the Chicago Police Department Mounted Unit, the complexities of motherhood, the work of painter George Stubbs, among others. She has a B.A. from St. Olaf College, an M.A. from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.F.A. from Bennington College, and has been an editor for nearly twenty years. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming inNinth Letter, The Kenyon Review, Agni, The Hudson Review, and elsewhere. Naselli will use her Writer’s Award to reduce her editing work to help pay for living expenses and child care so she can complete this project and begin new work, including a collection of essays on reading and art and a biography of editor and writer William Maxwell. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband and two young sons.

Solmaz Sharif (Poetry) received her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her M.F.A. in poetry from New York University. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and is now a Jones Lecturer at Stanford. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Poetry, Black Warrior Review, andGulf Coast, among others. She received an NEA fellowship in 2014 and has been a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholar on three occasions, as well as a Fine Arts Work Center fellow. Sharif is working on finishing her first collection of poems, Look, a poetic rewriting of the Department of Defense dictionary. Her nominator says, “Sharif’s poems wrestle with dual concerns: the violence against people that is sanitized through language, and the violence against language itself.” An Iranian-American, she hopes to begin a second collection, “a longer documentary lyric,” about revolution. She will also use her Writer’s Award to travel to Iran to interview and translate current poets working in the country. She plans to use the rest of her Award to reduce her work obligations in order to spend more time writing. She lives in Oakland, California.


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 $30,000 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. Nominations of candidates are solicited from writers, editors, critics, and other literary professionals who are likely to encounter women writers of unusual talent. A selection committee is appointed each year to recommend awards from among the nominees. Direct applications and unsolicited nominations are not accepted by the Foundation. Since the program began in 1995, the Foundation has awarded nearly $2 million to emergent women writers. The Foundation is celebrating its 20th anniversary. For more information, please visit


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