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Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient: Shayla Lawson

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

Shayla Lawson




Shayla Lawson (pronounced Chet’la) is (and / or, at times, has been) an amateur acrobat, an architect, a Dutch housewife, & dog mother to one irascible hound. Her work has appeared in print & online at Tin House, GRAMMA, ESPN, SalonThe OffingGuernica, Colorado Review, Barrelhouse, & MiPOesias.  She is the author of: A Speed Education in Human BeingPANTONE, & the forthcoming I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean. She is a 2017 Oregon Literary & MacDowell Colony Fellow, & a member of The Affrilachian Poets.

Q&A with Literary Arts

1. What are your sources of inspiration?

I would say largely my friends. I started writing because books became such an integral part of the world I loved. In a very rudimentary sense, I wanted to join the world of the people who wrote books and share a few of the characters I’ve cared about in life with the rest of the world.

2. How would you describe your creative process?

I spend a lot of time asking myself questions–looking at writing as a state of hypotheticals, or chemical bonds.  What happens when unlike things get paired together? I also spend a good bit of time singing, turning over lyrics or phrases to see what I can find in them.  

3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

The most exciting thing for me about receiving the fellowship is being able to take some time out of my 9-5 to go write. I am planning on attending multiple retreats in 2017 including a stint at the MacDowell Colony.

4. What are you currently working on?

I’m currently finishing two manuscripts: Ti Ador(n)o, a collection of poems I wrote about the people I met while living in Venice, Italy (a portion of which premiered at Portland’s Poetry Press Week) and I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean, a poetry book dedicated to the singer-songwriter of its title (due out on Saturnalia Books in 2018).

5. What advice do you have for future applicants?

Apply. We have such a wonderfully supportive literary community in Oregon. I am still very new here and deeply appreciate the ways in which I have been embraced here as a writer and educator. Opportunity is waiting for you.

OLF Judge’s Comments

Shayla Lawson writes with a range of craft and inquiry that transforms the page into an opportunity of encounter. Her poems are visual, punctuated, and crucially interdisciplinary, writing into the complex, undersung spaces between creativity and critical awareness, between contemporary art, sorrow, history, and love. Lawson’s is a thoughtful, sensory poetics that encouraged me to take nothing of art’s possibilities—whether soothing or troubling—for granted. I am grateful to have experienced the work of a poet who writes that “I live / here, in what will come.” I hope to experience more of her work in our future.

—Lo Kwa Mei-en, poetry judge

Excerpt from current work:

excerpts from PANTONE (available at Powell’s Books):


Sometimes I hope something terrible happens to me. The forest is overcast & robbers swarm round as wolves. Their blades switch lithe violin bows in orchestration. They slice through the closest heavens in staccato gasps. Quick as the fill of lungs. When sound does its own conjure work, I wonder what villain ever needs a face for. Isn’t it enough to breath the chalk-all air & know it is not air but the body beaded apart whispering to itself: sweet, Sweet, this is sweet. For a moment, it will be. Its first rush succumbs—seeds blown off a dandelion bud. My veins deepen as they circle in haggard desperation. I only fear I will not spill forth open enough. I own no dog but I am bout to let go the leash.


In letter I am absent & present. In these words I am apex & pigment. Less & much. Much more. I close my eyelids at night.  Ask the Absence (& Presence) how to pray.  God in the sound of ears. God of the light of no lightning bugs. This Black Stone I hone in front of me.  For so long, I have carried my heart’s carbon to an Unknown.  Mined this monumental.  I peer into the void / & full of the hold that holds. The task of carrying my empty hands: in my hands.

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