Catherine Ryan Gregory is the 2013 recipient of The Women Writers Fellowship. She recently earned her master’s in literary nonfiction from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. She is now working on turning her master’s final project, about women in Ghana exiled to a witchcamp, into a book. She lives and freelances in Portland.
Gregory was kind enough to answer several of our questions about her creative process and being a fellowship recipient.
1. What are your sources of inspiration?
I am most inspired by the people I meet as we all go about our business. Average people doing extraordinary things make me want to share their stories.
2. How would you describe your creative process?
I know I’ve hit upon a great idea if I can’t stop telling people about it. “Did you know people still persecute witches?” I’ll begin, or, “So there’s this farmer who loves his pigs so much he sings to them and feeds them donuts.” The next, and my favorite, part of the writing process is the reporting. I get to immerse myself in another world and follow my curiosity—this is when possibilities seem endless because I’m still learning the story. The next bit is the most frustrating. Shaping a narrative from so much information can feel like taking apart a complex piece of furniture, looking at all the pieces, and reassembling them into a more compact and manageable armoire, only you don’t get blueprints or instructions….Even editing can be an exciting challenge to find a more original or engaging way to say something or set a scene.
Lastly, of course, is publication. Who doesn’t like to see her name in print? Beyond the ego, though, knowing that others are reading what I’ve crafted is gratifying and makes me want to delve into another project immediately.
3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
The moment I learned I received a Literary Arts fellowship, my mind jumped to the work it will enable me to do. Recognition from an eminent literary organization and accomplished judges is mind-blowing, of course, but I’m most excited about the additional reporting the fellowship will allow me to do.
4. What are you currently working on?
I’m working on turning my master’s final project into a book. While in Ghana two years ago, I learned about women who were cast out from their communities under suspicion of witchcraft. Since then, I have been reporting and writing about these women. Their experiences shed light on what it’s like to be female in rural Ghana as well as the staggering resilience of humankind. What most impressed me about the women I met—many of whom are grandmothers—is that, for perhaps the first time in their lives, they now exercise a certain amount of autonomy in their daily activities. The irony in this—that after being exiled and labeled witches and even beaten, they enjoy more freedom than before—is a compelling story and one that belies a simplistic narrative of victimization. I plan to return to Ghana this fall to return to the witch camp and follow up with the ninety or so women I met on my previous trip.
5. What advice do you have for future fellowship applicants?
The only advice I have for future applications is to follow your passion. That’s what I’ve done, partly because my life seems more drab when I take a detour, but it seems to have worked. Let that enthusiasm show. It’s contagious.
2013 OLF Judge Michael Pearson had this to say about Bailey’s work:
“The excerpt from Catherine Gregory’s manuscript about the lives of women in the Gushegu witch camp in Ghana is literary journalism at its finest. With discretion, intelligence, and precision, Gregory does what this sort of nonfiction should—simultaneously show and tell. In an unadorned prose and with subtle skill, she braids history, personal stories, sociology, and current events into a narrative that is at once timely and timeless.”
Completed applications for the 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowships are due to Literary Arts by Friday, June 28, 2013. Fellowships are awarded to Oregon residents in poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, drama and young readers literature. Fellowships are also awarded to publishers. Applications and guidelines are available at https://literary-arts.org/oba-home/apply/fellowships, or by contacting Susan Denning at firstname.lastname@example.org.