The Creative Writing Program will host the 2019 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards Reading on Fri., Sept. 13.

Logo of the Rona Jaffe Foundation

The New York University Creative Writing Program will host the 2019 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards Reading on Fri., Sept. 13, 7 p.m. at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, located at 58 W. 10th Street (between 5th and 6th Aves.).

This year’s winners are: Selena Anderson, Magogodi oaMphela Makhene, Sarah Passino, Nicolette Polek, Elizabeth Schambelan, and Debbie Urbanski. Celebrating its 25th year, 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).

Selena Anderson’s (fiction) work pushes the boundaries of realism and fantasy as she explores and interrogates the ideas of race, identity, and Black womanhood in the American South. She is working on a collection of stories, Tenderoni, and two novels: Quinella and Cenisa, Samira, Monet. In addition, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford American, The Georgia Review, Bomb, Callaloo, and Fence, among others. She has received fellowships from the Kimbilio Center, the MacDowell Colony, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She received her B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, her M.F.A. from Columbia University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Houston. Anderson is an assistant professor at San José State University. She plans to use her Writer’s Award for child care over the next year to finalize her manuscripts and begin a new project about the Texas-to-Mexico underground railroad. She lives in San José, California, with her family.

Magogodi oaMphela Makhene (fiction) is working on a collection of short stories, Innards, focusing on everyday South Africans, inspired by her Soweto hometown. “I am concerned with literature written from the inside out of the black African experience—beyond the white gaze and colonialism’s long shadow. This writing uses the singular and the particular to connect readers with universal human truths. I hope my writing helps readers more fully grasp the vast, layered, and beautiful complexity that is the human experience on the African continent.” Her stories have been published in Granta, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and Guernica. Makhene has also begun work on a novel about Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, the Wampanoag First Nation translator, and the twin histories of slavery and trade in the U.S. and South Africa. She holds degrees from Neumann University, NYU, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She was a finalist for the 2017 Caine Prize and recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship. Makhene will use her Writer’s Award to focus on her work for the next year, including research travel to Cape Town and Amsterdam. She lives in New York State.

Sarah Passino’s (poetry) poems are based in the everyday; most specifically how the everyday is shaped by both the alienating political and economic forces at work in our social lives, and the abundant possibilities within shared and collective desires for change. Her work has appeared in Brooklyn Rail, Berkeley Poetry Review, DIAGRAM, and Boston Review. Passino was a Poets House Fellow in 2018 and received the 92nd Street Y Rachel Wetzsteon Poetry Prize in 2017. Her book Versioning Sappho Versioning will be published by Stereoverse this fall. She received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, her M.A. from Columbia University’s Teachers College, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University. Presently, she’s a freelance writer and editor and an instructor at the Bard Prison Initiative. Her Writer’s Award will allow her to focus on her writing projects full-time. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Nicolette Polek’s (fiction) inventive, highly compressed prose uses a magnified and surreal lens to examine feelings of displacement, alienation, and transformation inspired by her experience of being an only child of immigrants. Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Imaginary Museums, will be published by Soft Skull Press in January 2020. Polek received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.F.A. from the University of Maryland in 2019. She is currently working on a first novel, Amargosa, about women artists, imagination, and solitude, an outgrowth of her fascination with the late artist and dancer Marta Becket who created the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction. Polek’s Writer’s Award will allow her to continue her creative momentum following graduate school without financial worries in order to focus on this novel, and perhaps a second project about her family, Slovakia under Socialism, faith, and folklore. She is from Cleveland, Ohio, and currently lives in Maryland.

Elizabeth Schambelan (nonfiction) is working on a book of linked essays about masculinity, fraternity culture, and feminism. Her work is provocative, riveting, and necessary. The subject matter is difficult and visceral but never sensationalistic as she unearths the historical underpinnings and the social construction of masculinity and interrogates current fraternity culture. She says, “I’ve been working on this project, an investigation of the violence committed in the name of male privilege, since 2014. I’ve been writing not only about the violence itself, but also about the myths we use to reconcile ourselves to it, and about the denial and erasure that silences those who experience it.” Several essays from this work in progress have been published in n+1. Her work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books and Bookforum. Schambelan received her B.A. from Oberlin College and is the deputy editor of Artforum. She plans to take a sabbatical from the magazine to focus on completing this book. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Debbie Urbanski (fiction/nonfiction) writes speculative prose or “fantastical realism” intertwining the supernatural with everyday reality to bring about worlds on the page that evoke both strangeness and otherness as well as the thoroughly recognizable, commonplace, and uncomfortable aspects of domesticity and community. Recently, she has also begun experimenting with the potential of the horror genre and how it intersects with autobiography as a reflection of our deeper selves, inner mental states, and sexuality. Urbanski’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Sun, Conjunctions, The Southern Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, among others, and she has been anthologized in Best American Experimental Writing 2020 and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. She received her B.A. from Carleton College and her M.F.A. from Syracuse University. She plans to use her Writer’s Award to pay for child care over the next year in order to focus on completing her collection, The Ravishers and Other Memoirs, and her first novel, The Transitionists. She lives with her family in Syracuse, New York.

ABOUT THE AWARDS PROGRAM: The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program identifies emergent women writers of exceptional promise. The Foundation recognizes that women writers make special contributions to our culture and, through the Writers’ Awards program, tries to address the difficulties that some of the most talented among them have in finding time to write and gaining recognition. Women who write fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry are considered for the program’s grants of $40,000. Awards are given to those in the early stages of their writing careers whose published or unpublished work reveals accomplishment and demonstrates a commitment to writing. Nominations of candidates are solicited from writers, editors, critics, and other literary professionals who are likely to encounter women writers of unusual talent. (Direct applications and unsolicited nominations are not accepted by the Foundation.) A selection committee is appointed each year to recommend awards from among the nominees. Nominators and selectors serve anonymously. Beth McCabe directs the Writers’ Awards program. To learn more, visit

ABOUT RONA JAFFE: Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) established The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program in 1995. It is the only national literary awards program of its kind dedicated to supporting women writers exclusively. Since the program began, the Foundation has awarded grants to 158 outstanding women. Ms. Jaffe was the author of 16 books, including Class Reunion, Family Secrets, The Road Taken, and The Room-Mating Season (2003). Her 1958 best-selling first novel, The Best of Everything, was reissued by Penguin in 2005 and continues to be a cultural touchstone.

Press Contact

James Devitt
James Devitt
(212) 998-6808