Meet Your 2011 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award Winners

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09/07/2011 10:33 AM |


Last week the the Rona Jaffe Foundation announced the recipients of its annual Writers’ Awards, $25,000 grants given out to female writers of promise (notable recipients from bygone years include Elif Batuman, Tracy K. Smith, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and Rivka Galchen). So let’s meet this year’s writers, and marvel anew at the absolute necessity of modified systems of patronage such as these grants, if indeed women are to continue to make art in this our terrible and benighted culture:

Melanie Drane is a poet currently working on a cycle of poems inspired in part by her sister’s struggle to regain the use of language after a stroke. Drane, who left the workshop and writer-in-residence circuit to become “a full-time caregiver,” plans to use her award to “rent a small writing space and hire a part-time companion to stay with her sister while she works on this new collection.”

Apricot Irving is at work on a memoir of her youth spent in Haiti with her missionary parents; she plans to use the award for “writing space and childcare,” and an extended return trip to Haiti.

Fowzia Karimi is writing Above Us the Milky Way, a novel derived in part from her childhood in America, to which she came in 1980, when she was six, in flight from war-torn Afghanistan. She plans to use the money to visit her far-flung extended family and soak up their stories.

Namwali Serpell also plans to use her award as a travel grant; she’ll return to Zambia, where she was born, to research her novel-in-progress, a family saga called Breaking.

Merritt Tierce lives in Denton, Texas with her two kids. She’s at work on a collection of linked stories “loosely based on her years of waiting tables at a Texas steakhouse,” where she still works, having returned to Texas this May after receiving her MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. She anticipates that the award will allow her to work fewer shifts at the restaurant while finishing the book.

JoAnn Wypijewski, currently a columnist for The Nation, will take time off from her freelance work to focus on her book, Valiant, about the decline of America as seen through her car (a 1963 Plymouth Valiant convertible, obvs).

So there you have it. The Rona Jaffe Foundation: Encouraging women to forsake family responsibilities for wanton careers in letters since 1995.

2 Comment

  • I know that last bit about women forsaking their families is a joke, but it’s still sort of in poor taste, and if it were an award for men you would never make a joke like that.

  • You’re right that if it was an award for men (like… most awards tend to be, I suppose) I would not have written a post about how strikingly the grant citations underline the impossibility, for many female writers, of balancing work and family without outside financial assistance, nor would I have concluded with a rather sour and sarcastic joke acknowledging the fearsome and still widely endorsed ease with which our society relegates women to a lifetime of caregiving obligations.