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Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient: Santi Holley

We’re excited to introduce each of our 2017 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients on our blog this winter! For these fellowships, out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 439 applications we received. These judges named nine writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. The 2018 OLF applications will be posted online soon, and the deadline will be toward the end of June. You can read more about the application process by clicking here

2017 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient

Santi Holley




Santi Elijah Holley has contributed to Tin House, VICE, SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, NAILED, Pacifica Literary Review, and many other periodicals. He is a regular contributor to The Portland Mercury and Los Angeles-based ENDPAIN. A native of Southeast Michigan, he has called Portland home since 2004.

Q&A with Literary Arts

1. What are your sources of inspiration?

I live on the third floor of an apartment building on a busy street. My writing table is next to the window, and from this vantage point I can watch all kinds of daylight and twilight activities—couples strolling arm-in-arm, skateboarders practicing their tricks, men pushing shopping carts overflowing with recyclables, women pushing babies in strollers, students out for a run or a smoke, loud drunks, quiet sunsets. If I sit still long enough, and observe the world outside my window, I can usually find something. If that doesn’t work I’ll go outside and see what kind of trouble I can get into.

2. How would you describe your creative process?

Make coffee. Sit down with coffee and stare at a blank page. Stand up and pace around the apartment for 15-20 minutes. Leave the apartment and go for a walk, presumably to the grocery store to buy some unnecessary item, like turmeric. Return home. Put the unneeded item on the shelf to be forgotten. Call a friend and make plans for later. Sit down and stare at a blank page. Bite fingernails. Stare out the window. Make more coffee. Try again tomorrow.

3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

I moved to Oregon in 2004, with the ludicrous dream of becoming a writer. I submitted to every journal and periodical I could find, large and small, and soon I accumulated enough rejection slips to wallpaper my room. Eventually I began to publish and threw away all these slips, but I never stopped seeking confirmation or acknowledgement that I was on the right track, that I should keep going. To be awarded the Oregon Literary Fellowship from Literary Arts—who has long been an inspiration—is one of the greatest votes of confidence and encouragement a writer could hope for, and it makes all those hundreds upon of hundreds of rejection slips worth it.

4. What are you currently working on?

James Baldwin said, “I want to be an honest man and a good writer.” I don’t know if he’d intended for those to be mutually exclusive, but I don’t believe the latter can be achieved without the former. As I continue to work, learn, and grow, I hope to become a little better at being both. 

5. What advice do you have for future applicants?

See #2.

OLF Judge’s Comments

“Santi Elijah Holley’s writing explores inheritance, illness, and identity. In an essay exploring the complexity of his own personhood—born with a rare blood disorder, the son of a Jewish mother and an African American father—Holley offers a new and deeply complex voice. Confronting social constructs, the stigma of language, and the intrusion of the unexplainable, his prose is direct and stark with lyrical and intimate corners. I expect to see more from Holley as he continues to write from inside the liminal spaces of race and identity.”

– Maggie Messitt, nonfiction judge


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