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
Rebecca Owen lives in Silverton, Oregon. She teaches college writing, plays the cello in the Salem Philharmonia, and volunteers at Hytyme Equine Rescue. She received her MFA in creative nonfiction from Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her essays have appeared in Oregon Quarterly and Equus.
Q&A with Literary Arts
1. What are your sources of inspiration?
One of my favorite things to do is to pore through articles on Longform.org—I get caught up in the amazing volume of true and remarkable stories. I often feel like my scope is quite narrow in my own writing, so the pieces that appear on Longform remind me about other stories that exist in the world.
If I had to name just one author who inspires me, it would be Susan Orlean. The way she comes across on the page is so warm and friendly, and she treats her writing subjects with compassion. I want to be friends with her! She also has an amazing eye for detail, and she can convey minute observations so well.
2. How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process often happens in spurts. I’m trying my best to stick to a writing schedule, but it can be hard after reading student essays all day to even know what a sentence is anymore, or to be able to separate my brain from grading mode into creative mode. I tend to do a lot of research—maybe too much research?—and I like to do a lot of compiling before embarking on a new piece of writing. I also dwell on story ideas while I’m driving. I spend a lot of time in the car mulling over potential stories. Once I get started, though, I like to work for hours and hours at a time. I usually know where my story will begin and where it will end, so the initial process is just to clunk it out on the page in one go. Then I can go back in and shift things around to my liking.
3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
Everything! It’s all exciting! Since graduating from my MFA program at Minnesota State University Moorhead, I’ve really missed having long stretches of time to dedicate to my writing. Receiving a fellowship like this allows me to dedicate more time to writing and to completing writing projects. It reminds me that I need to keep writing, to not to not zap myself of all creative energy by grading essays. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that the judges saw potential in my work and my ability to complete more. It also allows me a bit of funding for travel purposes, so I can arrange interviews and visit people and places to write about them. I can’t thank Literary Arts enough for this opportunity and award. Plus, learning about current and past recipients—somehow I’ve ended up in remarkable company.
4. What are you currently working on?
My current (and long-term) book project is a book about old horses—what happens to them when they are no longer useful to their owners? Horses are strange and precarious animals; some command prices in the millions, and some are also given away for free on Craigslist or sold by the pound as horsemeat. Today, some people see them as pets, some as competitors, some as athletic partners, some as livestock—there are so many competing perspectives. Also, I grew up with two old horses (they were old when I met them), and I had to face some unpleasant realities about what to do with them as they aged and grew increasingly infirm. I was able to see to their final days with love and care, but many horses aren’t so lucky. In this book, my plan is to investigate around ten scenarios for old horses, looking at the options that horse owners have when faced with a horse who has outlived its purpose. I plan on profiling the people who inhabit this world—horse burial specialists, a woman who dedicates her time to saving as many horses as she can from a slaughterhouse feedlot, a retirement farm for thoroughbred racehorses, among others.
5. What advice do you have for future applicants?
Apply! Keep applying! I think I’ve applied once or twice before. This year, the deadline was coming up, and I decided on a very quick whim to send in my application. If you have an idea for a book or other writing project, the application process can be a wonderful way to solidify your good ideas into a more cohesive proposal!
OLF Judge’s Comments
Rebecca Owen’s book-in-progress explores aging horses, their place in American history and culture, and their death. A hybrid of memoir and immersion reportage, this work is a fine example of the lengths a creative nonfiction writer can go to get to the truth, treating the emotional truth with as much respect as she does the economic. Owen’s prose is compassionate and her tight scene-setting draws readers to invest in people they might not otherwise choose to venture alongside and actions they may have never considered. She doesn’t shy away from taking us inside an equine cemetery, slaughter feedlot, moment of euthanasia, or the space in which her story overlaps with those she’s encountering in her research. Her work ultimately is about love, loss, and caregiving, explores the human condition through the lives of horses, and asks: what happens when someone outlives their usefulness?
–Maggie Messitt, nonfiction judge