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
Josha Jay Nathan
Josha Jay Nathan is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon’s Creative Writing Program, and currently lives in Portland. He grew up in Washington state.
1. What are your sources of inspiration?
If you’ve looked out in the streets lately, it’s pretty clear that we still have some cultural reckoning to do in this country. This is one major inspiration for my work. My father was an immigrant—he grew up in a colony half a world away—while my mother’s family has been rooted in the Pacific Northwest for well over a hundred years. I’m a product of that discrepancy; perhaps it’s why I want to tell stories of those who are caught in the cracks between cultures, and those who are awash in society’s littoral zone.
It is the job of a writer to allow the reader to breathe with someone else, to inhabit a different understanding. One challenge, as well as inspiration, for me, is finding ways using simple terms to do exactly that—express the complexity of human drive and emotion. If we are all navigating a sea of story, as Ursula Le Guin puts it, in my little boat I hope to avoid splashiness, to leave as little wake as possible, yet still carry the reader somewhere unexpected.
2. How would you describe your creative process?
It’s death by a thousand sticky notes. The end result, on rare occasion, is a coherent narrative. Lately I’ve been thinking about the process of taking seemingly unrelated images or ideas and bringing them together on the page. There is a joy to it, like playing with pieces from different jigsaw puzzles, and finding ways to fit them together. I think that formal challenge is somehow freeing. It forces me out of all my mental burrows, and gives me somewhere new to run.
When I lived in Chicago several years ago, I learned about the threat posed to Lake Michigan by invasive carp, and I thought about how it would feel to clean up the inevitable mess—to reach in and pull dead fish out of the water. But this was not a story; the thought languished on a sticky note for a long time. It was only much later that I was able to combine it with a very specific setting, a very specific political moment—and gradually a character began to emerge. Most of my work depends on this kind of slow speed collision. The downside to this process is that it sometimes feels about as unlikely as, well, cold fusion.
3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
Getting the call was a heck of a Christmas present, that’s for sure. The fellowship offers affirmation, of course, but additionally it offers me a way to plug into the Oregon literary community. I spent the past two years in Eugene, where I was lucky enough to join a tight-knit group of writers. But I know that experience is a rare one. Already I’ve been impressed by the efforts of Literary Arts and its partners to support me and connect me with other writers, publishers, and literary opportunities in Portland and beyond.
4. What are you currently working on?
I am currently doing my best to build a life here, and working on a collection of short stories.
5. What advice do you have for future applicants?
My most general advice is to write it down. If something tickles your brain, capture it: in your notebook, on a post-it, on your smartphone. There’s no shame in hoarding ideas—the story that eventually grew out of my dead carp was the one that I used to apply to this fellowship.
Secondly, have confidence in the quality of your work. As an unpublished author, I assumed I had little chance of receiving the fellowship, and only applied after a friend strongly encouraged me to do so. If you have put a lot of thought into your work, put the same degree of thought into your application, and you will be on solid footing.