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Oregon Literary Fellowship Spotlight: Anjie Seewer Reynolds

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.

Anjie Seewer Reynolds of Ashland is the 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient in Young Readers Literature.

Bio: Anjie Seewer Reynold’s work has been published in The Christian Science Monitor, The Writer’s Workshop Review, The Marin Independent Journal, Drunken Boat, The Dos Passos Review, Underwired, and Roll: A Collection of Personal Essays, among others; her essays have also aired on KQED, San Francisco’s NPR affiliate. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Western Washington University. There, she also earned the Marjory Riverrun Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has been the recipient of a Soapstone residency and currently teaches Writing at Rogue Community College. She lives in Ashland with her husband and two children.


What are your sources of inspiration?

My nonfiction inspirations haven’t changed since I was first introduced to them years ago: I love the writings of Jo Ann Beard, Brenda Miller, Chris Offutt, and Richard Selzer. They capture honest moments in vivid images and edgy reflections. I re-read their essays when I want to get lost in language and analysis of experience. My fiction inspirations are novelists like John Irving, Michael Chabon, Sue Monk Kidd, and John Steinbeck for the ways they tap into a character’s deepest desires while weaving together complex story lines in distinct settings. Sharon Draper’s young readers book Out of My Mind is a great inspiration too for all of those reasons.

How would you describe your creative process?

“Glacially slow” is my first thought. I labor over the way I want to string my words together, the images I want to create, the meanings I want to convey. I’m constantly re-reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to be reminded to stay the course, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones to allow for a horrible first draft, and Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird to move forward, step by step. That said, some of my pieces I’ve written in one sitting, fully inspired on the spot; others have taken aching days, months, and years to get anywhere close to what I want. I try to use pictures and sticky notes on the wall to re-focus. Otherwise, I run, bike, do yard work, and clean in order to think and dream.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship? 

With the Literary Arts grant money, I’ve been able to fund research trips to Appalachia. In fact, I attended the Troublesome Creek Writer’s Retreat in Eastern Kentucky in April, and I’ve been accepted to the 37th Annual Appalachian Writer’s Workshop to be held there in July. I’ve also been able to purchase research books I’ve been curious about for years but haven’t wanted to bite the bullet to buy. Same goes for bonus magazine subscriptions, like The Sun and Poets & Writers. I should add, too, that while the financial support has been a huge boost, it was the vote of confidence Literary Arts provided at a critical time that made an emotional difference, encouraging me to continue to pursue my project.

What are you currently working on? 

I’m working on a manuscript for young readers that tells the story of a forbidden friendship between a blue-skinned girl and a black-skinned girl in 1962 Eastern Kentucky. Based on the real-life condition of the blue-skinned Fugates of Troublesome Creek, the main character, Ida Mae Pritchard, is one of the blue-skinned Pritchards of Blue Holler. Shy and self-conscious of her skin color, her only friends are her family, both blue and white. She leads an isolated, lonely life in the holler–until she meets Aggie, a young black girl living in a nearby depressed coal town. Bonded initially by the limitations they feel because of skin color, the girls forge a secret friendship that makes them feel normal, regardless of color. When a cure for blue skin presents itself by way of a visiting doctor from Louisville, Ida and Aggie will have to come to terms with their friendship–and their identities–when one of them can change the color of her skin and the other cannot.

What advice do you have for future applicants? 

My best advice is to take the time to apply. Sitting down to put the entire application packet together, answering questions, and reflecting on the purpose of your project(s) and your purpose as a writer will give you clarity that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Even though you’ll cross your fingers and hope like crazy that you’ll win the fellowship–that goes with the territory–you’ll feel inspired by that single act of putting your application in the mail and owning up to what you want.

Sample Work

Tree (as published in The Writer’s Workshop Review)

When you get the perfect perch in a tree, you’re cradled.

You straddle a thick branch while the coarseness of the bark works like Velcro or the sticky back side of a postage stamp.

There, you can lean back against the upstretched limb behind you, or you can lean forward to the branch reaching sideways in front of you. If you’ve got your notebook, you can rest it on that side-reaching limb: nature’s desk.

From the vantage point of the tree, you can see farther than you could on the ground.

But if you’re thirty-seven, you’re not really that high up.

As a kid in the Pacific Northwest, you used to climb the Douglas firs, tree sap snarling your brown braids and staining your jeans.

But this tree’s different.

It’s not a fir; it’s a gangly pine in northern California on the Pacific Ocean. You’re about six feet off the ground and you haven’t reached the needles yet. The thought’s occurred to you to go higher, to let the needles catch in your hair. To grab a pinecone, toss it across the lawn, let the cone sap gum up your fingers.

But you’re different.

It’s been twenty-five years since you were that serious tree climber along Pipeline Road, higher than the power lines. Recovering from a bone break now doesn’t sound so exciting – it wouldn’t be such fun to see what your friends would write on your cast; you don’t want to figure out how to manage life with two kids, a job, and a third floor apartment.

So you’ve met this tree, this old friend, halfway.

You’ve climbed up her trunk, found one of her low-reaching and welcoming branches and hoped to have another twenty-five years at this level.

You try not to think of brown braids gone gray and coiled atop your head. You try not to think of yourself in the slow rocker your grandkids might drag out to the base of the tree, so you can watch them climbing above you to the tippy top.

Instead, you close your pen cap and shut your notebook, dropping them to the grass with a ting and a thud, and rest your elbows on nature’s desk to simply take in the crash of the waves and the squawks of the fish-greedy gulls.

To watch from above is what the tree offered from the very start, after all.

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