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Oregon Literary Fellowship Spotlight: Kristy Athens

This month, 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.

Kristy Athens of Enterprise is a 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient in Literary Nonfiction.

Bio: Kristy Athens is the author of Get Your Pitchfork On!: The Real Dirt on Country Living (Process Media, 2012). She lives in Wallowa County, Oregon, where she works at the NE Oregon Economic Development District as Outreach Specialist. Her nonfiction and short fiction have been published in a number of magazines, newspapers and literary journals, and she has been a regular contributor to HandPicked Nation. Learn more at kristyathens.com.


What are your sources of inspiration?

I tend to be a generalist, so inspiration comes from all over: the natural world, the human world (pretty mutually exclusive, as far as I’m concerned). It might be something I feel, something I witness, something I read about. I’m pretty disconnected from pop culture, so the inspirations from the human world fall more along the lines of how people make a place for themselves in the world.

How would you describe your creative process?

Some people would call me “undisciplined.” There are so many writers out there with these very specific instructions of how one must get one’s creative work done. Morning pages, prompts, even one workshop leader I met insisted on burning candles and listening to baroque music! Poppycock, I say. Make your own ritual, fine, but don’t force it. If you’re not enjoying writing, stop! Go do something outside! With your hands! Go talk to someone! I consider myself a sponge, and the only way to squeeze stuff out of a sponge is to also soak stuff up with it.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship? 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Joking aside, the validation of having another writer, who isn’t your friend or your mom, recognize your work is immensely helpful. The funds are also helpful; they make possible a research trip or retreat that someone might otherwise not be able to justify, especially if they have children. I’m so glad to hear that Literary Arts has increased the amount of funding available.

What are you currently working on? 

Well, I’m in graduate school … working on an MS in Food Systems and Society from Marylhurst University. And, taking my own advice above, right now I’m more interested in my collage artwork than writing, so if I have two moments to rub together I tend to run down to my studio to throw some cards together. I also have a blog that I update weekly, related to my book, Get Your Pitchfork On!.

What advice do you have for future applicants? 

My advice is simple: do it. Send in your best work. There is of course a level of quality that must be achieved, but the judging—and all judging—is subjective, so don’t give up. The judges are different every year. I submitted essentially the same manuscript for three years before it was selected. Follow the submission instructions. Give LA staff a break, and bring in your packet well before 4 p.m. on the last day!

Sample Work

Note: You can see more work here: https://twitter.com/ithakaephemera and here: https://getyourpitchforkon.wordpress.com/

Picture the Old Barn

Rasmussen Farm, Hood River

Utility is the name of the game on a farm. This barn used to protect hay bales from the rain and snow of winter. It isn’t fancy; it didn’t need to be. A ladder up the wall consists of odd-sized scraps of wood nailed to the two-by-fours that make up the wall itself. When a hinge broke, they tried a nail. If a nail didn’t work, they tried baling wire.

The thirty-by-thirty structure is now a model of decay: scraps of roofing on sagging beams; window frames empty and impossibly angled; hayloft door jutting into nothingness, where the top of the south wall should be. But, character is the name of the game with tourists. Six-by-six posts and cables have been strategically placed to prop up what remains.

Along the interior ridgeline is the wooden track for an ancient rusted pulley. The floor of the barn is littered with lumber and cinderblocks, overgrown with Himalayan blackberry vines, wall lettuce, grasses and other occupants that, in contrast to the finicky tomatoes and peppers in the field, aren’t picky about the conditions under which they live.

Nearly roofless and all angles, the barn throws fantastic shadows. Its boards are supremely mottled in color from years of being soaked by driving rain and baked by summer sun, expanding and shrinking.

Across and beyond the barn, standing on the parking lot and framed in the (doorless) main entry, is a man, a tourist, in jeans and a white t-shirt; a camcorder where his head should be. His wife, the art director, points out new shots with the arm that is not carrying a bag of treats from the gift shop. On a farm, photo ops are priceless.

Judge’s Comments

By Amy Leach, nonfiction judge

In each of her short and radiant portraits of the Columbia River Gorge, Kristy Athens captures a distinct moment in a distinct place.  Entering imaginatively into the disparate purposes of basalt, dahlias, spent strawberries and antiquated stairways, she writes with fellow feeling and wit about a remarkable range of lives, thrilling with the quiddity of each.  A prosperous pear tree throws away perfect fruit; an obsolete tractor is revived by its own exploding boiler; solitary ponderosas leave the observer “pondering deep-rooted complexity.”  These encounters of a sympathetic, nimble mind with a marvelous place remind us of the limitlessness of life.

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