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Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient: Leslie Barnard

We’re excited to be featuring the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients on our blog this spring! The applications for 2017 fellowships are due Friday, June 24, 2016 and you can read the guidelines and download an application by clicking here.

2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient

Leslie Barnard




Leslie Barnard had the privilege of working with Ehud Havazelet at the University of Oregon, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing. Her fiction has appeared in Best New American Voices and The Briar Cliff Review, among others. She is currently writing a novel set in medieval Iceland.

Q&A with Literary Arts

1. What are your sources of inspiration?

I am inspired by the natural world. I am humbled by its immensity, its intricacy, its ruthlessness and its grace. Nature forces me to look closely, to practice the art of noticing, as my young children never fail to do when on a hike in the woods. I am also inspired by folklore and mythology, and by writers who introduce me to new worlds and new forms. These include Alice Munro, Junot Diaz, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Sherman Alexie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sigrid Undset and Ursula Le Guin, among others.

2. How would you describe your creative process?

I believe in making writing a daily ritual to which the mind becomes accustomed. My writing time is truly precious because when I write, my mind settles. I get distance from the scattered, reflexive thinking that seems to dominate the rest of my day. I get to fully immerse myself in focused, creative thought. I concentrate on seeing clearly during these vital hours, and am largely an observer, taking my cues from characters whose deepest needs I hope to ascertain.

3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

Receiving this fellowship has been very affirming. As I type away in my basement office, revising the novel I’ve been working on for four years, it is easy to get discouraged. This fellowship has strengthened my resolve. In addition, as a fellowship recipient, I feel I’ve been welcomed into a community of writers who will continue to nourish me throughout my career.

4. What are you currently working on?

After spending four months in Trondheim, Norway, I immersed myself in the The Sagas of Icelanders, and began work on a coming of age novel set in medieval Iceland. Over time, the novel has become increasingly fantastical, drawing on pre-Christian Norse mythology and cosmology. At its core, it is the story of an adolescent prince who feels pressure to establish his status in his community and culture by perpetrating an act of violence. As he joins a group of warriors in search of rebels whose so-called witchcraft defies the law, he is forced to decide between becoming a man in the eyes of his peers or doing what he knows is right.

5. What advice do you have for future applicants?

Don’t give up. Keep writing and revising, and if your application is not successful the first time around, try again.

OLF Judge’s Comments

In one of Leslie Bernard’s stories, “Drift River,” a 14-year-old boy has dreams of becoming the kind of man that his father and his brother and everyone else will admire. He imagines the day he becomes that man, the day he kills a bull in a single shot and comes home to his father, who will be watching and “noticing the difference right away.” But what will that boy sacrifice that day, on the way to becoming a man? This is the important question that Barnard Booth explores in her work. She writes with sensitivity, empathy and sharp insight, taking care to present to the reader characters who are complicated and nuanced, characters who are presented with grace and sympathy, but without sentimentality. And yet, as much as Barnard Booth concerns herself with young men coming of age, she also means to talk about American culture and society as a whole, how we raises our boys and how we prescribe—mandate—a narrow definition of masculine identity. Her writing is as thought-provoking and haunting as it is beautiful.

—Dana Johnson


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