Features

Cool, creative, (and maybe a little crazy): 2016 Kratz Writing Fellows

Madeline St. John

News Editor

If someone gave you a thousand dollars … a purely hypothetical situation, but it actually happens every year. The Kratz Center for Creative Writing awards a number of students with $1,000 to $3,000 summer writing fellowships. The fellowships may be applied to travel and/or research connected to a writing project, a writing-related internship, or attendance at a summer conference or workshop.

“No one just hands you money to go on a trip to write! It’s just a dream come true,” said Ashley Begley ‘16. Begley was just awarded the fellowship to visit a town in Northern Pennsylvania and write about the intersection of her childhood memories of the town and the genocide of Native American populations that occurred there. She will be doing this through the medium of science fiction.

“I really hate it when people are erased, or made to feel invisible. I feel an innate need to prod, to poke,” said Begley on why she decided to do this project.

“I was trying to find a way to deal with this issue, and I was simultaneously reading Octavia Butler’s sci-fi neo-colonial novel ‘Kindred,’ in which she conveys so much emotion,” said Begley regarding her choice to do science fiction. “The concepts are outrageous and ridiculous—like time-travel can’t happen—but it really brings things out, it makes you feel so much emotion.”

As a Woman Studies major, Begley expressed that one worry she has is that she is outsider coming in to write about this community. “Throughout the entire discipline [of Women’s Studies] it is hammered into you—which is a good thing—to do ‘local,’ ‘local,’ always local. So basically, don’t be a white savior going into this Native American community saying, ‘I’m going to help you tell your story.’ And I’m really worried that that is going to happen. My own history is also wrapped up in this, so I am hoping that will help…and I’m used to being confrontational…but not in this town, because I’m not a local there.” Begley also explained how the town was settled by Irish coal miners and that was her heritage.

Despite this worry, however, Begley is excited about her project, and credited the Goucher community with building her confidence. “I had so little confidence in myself as a freshman, and then I had things published in the ‘Preface,’ and in a literary journal at another school, and I started thinking, maybe my writing is not so bad,” she said. “All the support of the faculty and my friends helped me with everything.”

The importance of Goucher in their creative writing career was a theme reiterated by a number of fellowship recipients.

“I’ve always been into creative writing,” said India Lamb ‘16, who received the fellowship to write non-fiction and fiction here in Baltimore. “I stopped [writing] as soon as I entered high school because there wasn’t much time. When I took my first creative writing class at Goucher, it opened my eyes and I sort of fell in love with writing again.”

In this theme of “love,” Lamb hopes to “fall in love with Baltimore” this summer. “Growing up, I honestly didn’t really care for the city,” she wrote. “When I got older I grew accustomed to the bad rep that Baltimore has—the ‘Body-more’ references, the fact that people who are born and raised in Baltimore will never get out of the city, that people are ‘ghetto,’ the ‘no-good’ generation, and so on. It really discouraged me. It still does at times. Now that I’m graduating this spring, I realize that either good or bad, I do appreciate the experiences that I’ve had growing up in Baltimore. Yes, things in the city could definitely be better, but in order for that to happen the perception of Baltimore needs to change. Then I realized I wanted my project to be an example of that, by writing the sublime aspect of Baltimore…I can’t wait to wake up, get dressed, and walk around in my neighborhood—or downtown, or down the harbor, or down Fells Point—and start writing.”

Another fellowship recipient, Cynthia Koster ‘16, expressed how she felt Goucher’s program has helped her grow as a writer. “When I came to Goucher, I thought I was a great writer but I actually was shit, so the Goucher program really helped me figure out my own strengths and weaknesses—especially weaknesses—as a writer,” she said. Koster will be visiting New Orleans to research “tourist culture vs. the local culture,” and the local criminal justice system, for her novel set in the city.

“I was intrigued by the disparity between the tourists and locals, and by the really rich history…Some parts are emphasized to attract tourists and other parts we don’t pay attention to because they don’t appeal to tourists,” said Koster. “[In the city, there is] also a huge range of wealth and poverty within a small space, which intrigued me.”

Koster plans to travel by foot, take the occasional streetcar, stay in the French quarter, and eat lots of “fucking fantastic” food.

Several other writers will also be using the fellowship money to travel. Traveling by train from North New Jersey to Quitman, Georgia, Rae Walker ‘17 will be writing a series of poems about migrating from the North to the South in the form of Jacob Lawrence’s “The Migration” series. He will be following the reverse path of his ancestors, who migrated from Quitman, Georgia to North New Jersey.

“It’s all going to be a challenge—traveling, hotel-ing, planning to do it via train,” Walker said. He also reflected on how this process will be different from how he usually writes. “I wrote all of [my previous poetry] either because I was angry or because I had to write something for class, not because of my experience, so this will be a challenge.”

Walker spoke about what inspires his work. “Most of my poems are about black identity in America…I remember memorizing, the first poem I memorized was Langston Hughes’ ‘Mother to Son.’ And to this day it is my favorite poem…Langston Hughes’ [poems]—some are long, some are short, and they vary in tone and depth, but all harp on black identity, and if I get published, my poems will all be on black identity, because if I don’t tell it no one else will…”

Jody Spence ‘16 is also using the fund for travel and to also spend time in Georgia. She will be road-tripping cross-country—from Georgia to Connecticut to Washington, down to California and back to Georgia—and stopping in various “melting-pot” cities along the way. Spence plans to explore the plus-size experience in the United States through a mixture of nonfiction and poetry. She will visit Boulder, Colorado, the least obese city in the States, and Huntington, West Virginia, and McAllen, Texas, the most obese cities in the States.

“A challenge is going to be trying to write this [piece] in a way so that people aren’t immediately going to say, ‘just get exercise and eat right, and you’ll be okay’,” Spence said. “I want to get my feelings out there, to get out what it has been like growing up fat…This is something that is finally getting talked about.”

“Because the [body positivity] movement has gotten so big recently, I wanted to have a part in this. I’m doing a photography project, and I can see the effect [body positivity] has on people,” she added.

In talking about body positivity, Spence referenced a quote by J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series: “‘Fat’ is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her. I mean, is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive,’ ‘jealous,’ ‘shallow,’ ‘vain,’ ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’?”

“That is one of my favorite quotes by her,” Spence pointed out.

Spence is hoping complete between ten and twenty pages of nonfiction, “as many poems as [she] can get done,” and to include some photography, and possibly an interview with Substantia Jones, “a frontrunner in the body positivity movement.” She hopes to spend about a month to a month and a half driving around the country, working on the project.

Corey Isaacs ‘16 will be traveling to the University of Texas at Austin to study and write fiction inspired by the original manuscripts of David Foster Wallace. “Wallace has long been one of my favorite authors,” Isaacs wrote. “My freshman year, I read an essay he wrote towards the beginning of his career, which kind of serves as a mission statement for the fiction he would go onto write, entitled ‘E Unibus Pluram,’ [in which he says] that if fiction is to have any meaning or cultural relevance, what the new generation of fiction writers ought to be focused on is ways to combat the irony and cynicism that we are constantly bombarded with by advertisers who want to appear ‘hip’.”

Isaacs is looking forward to the opportunity to escape the bombardment of modern technology and focus on research and writing. “Going to the library, forcing myself to unplug, and get my hands dirty seems most conducive to learning about Wallace’s work,” he wrote.

This year, the fellowships were awarded to thirteen students. The other fellowship recipients include Anna Sandacz ‘16, Lucy Burchell ‘18, Rika Hoffman ‘18, Isabel DaSilva ‘16, Alice Johnston ‘16, Adam Geller ‘18, and Sabrina Silva ‘17. To apply for funding, each applicant presented a detailed plan proposal, along with a budget and a sample of their writing—either poems, fiction, or nonfiction. For a full list of recipients and the projects they will be undertaking, visit: http://www.goucher.edu/academics/english/introducing-the-2016-kratz-center-for-creative-writing-summer-writing-fellows.

The 2016 Kratz summer writing fellowship recipients just received their awards: $1000 to $3000, which may be applied to travel, research, or an internship or writing-related conference. But what about those who completed the fellowship last year? How did the experience go for them? What did they learn? How did the experience affect their writing?

Marina Velazquez-Suarez, ’15, used to fellowship to travel around Italy and write short stories accompanied by illustrations. She reflected on how the experience influenced her writing. “Before the fellowship…I would write down the tiniest gem of an idea and would leave it at that; I wouldn’t develop it and tried to make it bigger and better,” she said. “After the fellowship I’ve learned to develop my ideas more carefully. Sometimes it turns into a 20-page story; other times a simple 3-page story, or even just a poem. Now, I force myself to work on my ideas since I never know where one might lead me,” she said.

Devorah Sperling-Billings, ’15, who travelled to Scotland to finish the last book in a trilogy she was working on, talked about on how her experience shaped the creation of this final book in her trilogy. “The book was not set in Scotland, but I’ve been fascinated by the ballads, folktales, and writers from the British Isles since I was a kid. As this trilogy came very much out of that tradition in fantasy, it felt right to finish it there…Edinburgh, in particular, is a very literary city, and that’s where I was staying…I was entirely on my own time, with nothing else to do, and that was an awesome opportunity to have. It let me really immerse myself in the book,” she said.

“I went for long walks around the city and its amazing parks, and just tried to absorb things and let them inspire both the setting and the tone. Especially some of the history in Edinburgh. Even some events and landmarks in the book came from my time there,” said Sperling-Billings. “In Holyrood Park one day, I could have sworn I heard singing – not one voice, but a whole polyphonic choir – coming from a cliffside. There was no one else in the immediate area, just an old ruin of a chapel on the hill above. Make of that what you will.”

Velazquez-Suarez also wrote about how the travel impacted her. “Italy is a country that has history and art pouring out of every crevice and I wanted to experience and learn all that the country had to offer… Each city was completely unique in its own way, with its own history, stories, and art…. I was so engrossed in doing research for my stories that I kind of forgot about them; I wanted to spend all my time exploring instead of being locked in getting some actual writing done…I went to Italy with an aim in mind, which was writing the stories, but I learned so much more. The destination was a story all on its own,” she said.

Tiana Mignogna, ’15, used the fellowship to go on tour with her band, Tiana and the Cliffhangers, and wrote poems, nonfiction, and songs inspired by her experience. “This project helped me think about my long-term goals with writing in the sense that I now know I can work on creating a direct pathway from what is currently going on in my life to processing it creatively,” she reflected. “[It] taught me that I can find inspiration anywhere,” she said.

For Mignogna, however, completing this project also came with a number of real challenges, including dealing with a recent diagnosis of anxiety and depression. “About two months before tour, I graduated from Goucher and was dealing with a slew of mental and physical health issues, and that doesn’t really translate well to being in a different city every day,” she wrote.

“For this project, I had to spend more time with myself and my insecurities, and trying to put those into words – especially words that I knew my mentor would read – was a little overwhelming. But it forced me to think about myself and my purpose for being on tour and my life on the road…My finished product was a 35 page memoir, 10 poems, and my newest CD that I mailed to the Kratz center. I feel great about those because they took a lot for me emotionally…from tension between friends to stage fright to dealing with my new diagnosis,” she said.  

“The most fun part of this trip was celebrating our last day – The 4th of July – at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and realizing I had overcome the anxiety that threatened to consume me on the road,” she said.

        While many who are awarded the Kratz Summer Writing Fellowship do use it for travel, it can also be used to attend a conference or workshop, or for an internship. Madeleine Lasser, ’16, used the fellowship to intern with The Poetry Society of New York, working with them on their temporary installment, “The Typewriter Project”.

        “‘The Typewriter Project’ was a temporary literary arts installment in Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side of Manhattan,” wrote Lasser. “Anyone could come into the one-room booth to type on the typewriter, and it was a pretty solitary experience. Participants were able to feel isolated in a public place, which showed in their writing,” she wrote.

        From this internship experience, Lasser wrote a collection of poems during an independent study with poetry professor Beth Spires, titled “Scenes from Tompkins Square Park.”

“A lot of what I wrote about this experience was, essentially, a series of character profiles of the people I met,” she said. “But, as I wrote more, I was encouraged by Beth Spires [a Goucher professor of creative writing] to insert myself into the scene…I think this made me more connected to my work and made the poetry more dynamic,” she said.

Lasser reflected on how this experience ultimately changed her relationship with poetry. “I think this experience really hammered in, for me, the averageness of writing poetry. I am not the only poet to ever exist and people who wouldn’t consider themselves poets honestly probably already are. I learned a lot about vulnerability and anonymity; the participants were much more willing to be blunt and real when they knew their name would not be associated with their posts,” she said.

Immediately after completing the Kratz fellowship, Lasser declared a creative writing minor. Mignona, Sperling-Billings, and Velazquez-Suarez were creative writing majors. Sperling-Billings expressed her gratitude to the program. “I studied mostly with Madison, and he was absolutely amazing for my work, especially helping me learn to edit my own work,” she said.

        Another creative writing major, William Stieglitz, ’17, used the fellowship to visit eastern seaboard ports to research tall ships for his novel, which features boat travel. He offered his advice to future fellowship recipients. “Have a good plan as to how your experience will help you improve as a writer…If you have a large writing goal, make a schedule and have a certain number of pages you’re going to write every day or week,” he said.

        Mignona also emphasized the importance of a plan. “I would suggest setting clear goals for yourself and keeping an updated journal while you’re on your trip. It’s easy to lose track of what exactly you planned to write as far as word count and amount of poems go, for example,” she said.

Mignona also talked about the importance of the spontaneity of the experience. “You can’t pre-plan what you’ll write about – that’s what the trip is for. It will bend and twist you in ways you may not have thought possible… But that will give you a great opportunity to put your pen to paper…Prepare for the unknown, and be ready to tell everyone about it,” she wrote.

        Lasser enthusiastically encouraged students to take advantage of this opportunity. “Apply apply apply!” she wrote. “Do this fellowship!!! If you qualify, apply!”

        Other 2015 Kratz Summer Writing Fellowship recipients include Marie Claire Bryant, ’15, Dorie Chevlen, ’15, Victoria Cooke, ___,  Isabel DaSilva, __, Emma Day, ’15, Maring Eberlein, Allie Kessler, Sharon Landstrom, Caroline Less, Tianna Mignogna, Gwendolyn Moiles, Gabrielle Spear, Michelle Tirto, and Eliana Zimet.

For a list of previous Kratz Summer Writing Fellows and their projects, visit: http://blogs.goucher.edu/kratz/fellowships/

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