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Oregon Literary Fellowship Spotlight: Robert Arellano

Throughout May and June, we’re highlighting each of the 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients on our blog. Applications for the 2015 Oregon Literary Fellowships are online now. Applications are due in our office by Friday, June 27, 2014. For more information about how to apply, contact Susan Denning at susan@literary-arts.org.

Robert Arellano of Talent, Oregon, is a 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient in Fiction.

Bio: When I was 17, I was awarded scholarships that made it possible for me to attend Brown University, where I completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in literature and creative writing. I am the author of six novels, including the 2010 Edgar Award finalist Havana Lunar. I’ve also had stories published in magazines like Tin House, Jane, and The Believer, as well as selected for anthologies by editors like Joyce Carol Oates and Julio Ortega. I think one thing that differentiates me from some Oregon Literary Fellows is that I’ve been a full-time teacher of writing for over 20 years. I have taught at Brown, the Institute of American Indian Arts, the University of New Mexico and Southern Oregon University, and once in a blue moon I’ll work as a freelance editor for an author aspiring to complete a manuscript and get a publishing deal. I also volunteer teaching youth writing workshops through programs like the annual César E. Chavez Leadership Conference, which brings Latino high school students from Grants Pass to Klamath for a pre-college experience at SOU’s Ashland campus. I take pride in helping guide my students while they work hard in pursuit of their goals.


What are your sources of inspiration?

My wife Jodie Jean and our two boys (5 and 7) inspire me, and not just because they keep me sane: It’s a word thing we all seem to share. Jodie Jean is a singer-songwriter, so I’ve always counted on her potential to inspire, but now that we’ve been together 13 years I’m pleased to discover new and wonderful ways every day that novelist and songwriter can act as catalysts for one another’s art. As for the boys, they are both very into language—and into jokes. Their jokes are frequently absurd in ways that shake the foundations of my forty-something metaphysic so that I have to drop everything and start writing something down. I keep notebooks in various parts of the house, so I never have to go very far. Naturally, other authors also inspire. More on this immediately below.

How would you describe your creative process?

I’m learning more every day how, in order to stoke my own creativity, I have to be reading—and reading something excellent. Once I get into the world of a really good book, the effect is like a mash-up of Xeno’s paradox with a perpetual-motion machine: it takes me longer and longer to read because I keep putting down the book to work on my own writing, sometimes after reading just one page a day. The novels of my friend and teacher Robert Coover have had this effect on me ever since I picked up Pinocchio in Venice almost 25 years ago. I’m only a week into reading Coover’s 2014 novel, The Brunist Day of Wrath, which clocks in at 1,024 pages, and I’m counting on many months of inspiration out of it. Not bad for 30 bucks—that’s less than 3 cents a page, 3 cents a day.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

So far, it has been Literary Arts sending me to the annual Muse and the Marketplace conference just this past weekend, together with 2014 Oregon Literary Fellow Sarah Marshall, as a guest of Grub Street (not the New York food blog, but the Boston writing center). Literary Arts (happy 30, by the way!) and Grub Street (now in its 17th year) have a lot in common, yet there’s also a lot we can learn from each other’s efforts and successes with some wildly different programs.

What are you currently working on?

An Oregon detective novel with a narrative voice inspired by noir radio plays. By the time it’s finished in 2015, it should also spawn some kind of audio incarnation.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

¡Que escriban con ganas! (Write like you mean it.)

Sample Work (you can find more by clicking here)

“Where I’m From” (after Levi Romero and George Ella Lyon)

I am from Big Wheel,

from Eight O’Clock Coffee and Super Pinky.

I am from the laundry chute.

(Damp, secret,

crawl space underneath where only I fit.)

I am from the ant plant

the mimosa tree

whose long-gone limbs I remember

as if they were my own.


I’m from smoky fires and Trio Los Panchos,

from we’ll invite you again sometime and that’s the way the cookie bounces.

I’m from Pops and Manuel

and have you tried one of your mother’s cookies lately,

from the parking lot of Ray’s that was Tark’s

and the order window of Tacos Michoacan

blasting a tape

la huela del alacrán.


I’m from los hermanos Flores and Revista Caminos,

duro trabajo y puro descanso,

no te portes malo y pon tus chor.

From misa de sábado y

Overlook Hospital,

soy Arellano, picadillo y tuna rice.


Vengo del Exílio and the day Michael fell of the roof,

the upstairs hallway, the cosas drawer, los cubiertos y traeme un tenedor.

I’m from el rio y soy de los arroyos que

en Rogue Valley, el sur de Oregon,

son like anywhere.


Judge’s Comments

By Brian Evenson, fiction judge, on the piece “Six Stories of My Father”

“This is a deceptively simple piece, written in a way that seems effortless but that has a surprising amount of resonance and depth. Arellano does a tremendous job dealing with the vagaries of the Cuban-American experience while resisting the temptation to either sentimentalize it or sensationalize it. He manages as well to get a great deal not only out of the narrative itself but makes great use of gaps and juxtaposition. A strong, promising piece.”


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