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
Tamar Shai Bolkvadze
Tamar Shai Bolkvadze earned a Bachelor of Science in Drama from Syracuse University, during which time she was given the opportunity to study at the Moscow Art Theatre College in Moscow. She is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Q&A with Literary Arts
1. What are your sources of inspiration?
I find that there are some times that I’m more open to inspiration than others. I think that has a lot to do with what’s going on in my world, and how much time I give myself to daydream. When I do get an idea for a play or a short story, it usually comes when I’m not looking. It might be a segment on NPR that’s playing in the background while I wash the dishes, or a photograph in a magazine that seems to have interesting characters or that presents an unusual premise. Then it’s a matter of tucking the image or idea away somewhere so that it can be drawn on later. There’s usually a lag time between getting the spark and being able to do anything with it.
2. How would you describe your creative process?
When an idea comes, I live with it for a little while. I might jot down the initial thought, but no more than that. Then when I feel like I’m generating more ideas than I can hold onto in my head, I start writing notes. The notes are random, and sometimes contradict each other. Then I put them away and start writing. The notes are just something to spur me on when I’m not sure where I’m going. I tend to binge write. I wish I was more disciplined, and wrote a certain number of hours a day. Not only does that not suit my schedule, it doesn’t suit my personality. When an idea gets ahold of me, I pretty much just let it take over my life for as long as it takes to get through a first draft—usually three or four weeks. Then I send it out to friends for feedback and try to arrange for a table reading with PDX Playwrights.
3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
The validation! When you’re in the arts, as most of you know, rejection is the norm. So having someone take an interest in your work, and support your continued efforts is unexpected and priceless!
4. What are you currently working on?
My goal is to get Ugly Baby, Stupid Baby, the play that I submitted for the fellowship, produced in Portland. In terms of writing, I am working on a novella which is the thesis project for my MFA program. It’s about a young girl from Alaska who sets her sights on stealing one week’s worth of tithes from a mega-church. Once I complete my degree, I’m planning on turning my attention back to playwriting.
5. What advice do you have for future applicants?
There’s a strange tension that exists with any art form—you have to trust your own instincts, but still be open to feedback. My suggestion is to write for yourself, but when you’re ready to share, open yourself up to the suggestions of others. You don’t have to act on all of the feedback, but it’s important to give each comment careful consideration instead of rejecting it out of hand.
OLF Judge’s Comments
Tamar Shai Bolkvadze play is gripping, ambitious, and elegant. With marvelous dialogue, a few well-chosen props, and the background noise/context of demonstration turning into riot, Bolkvadze explores the tragic difficulty and hopeful possibility of understanding across cultural and economic difference. She allows the audience to consider opposing perspectives as truth.
She creates dynamic, complex characters who grapple with the difficult personal and political issues of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and most definitely illuminates the human experience. In Ibrahim and Eli she has created rich, flawed characters who transcend the caricatures they could make of each other (or that we could make of them). The backgammon game and who determines the rules is a lovely analogy for how Ibrahim and Eli feel in the world. Their language verges on the poetic, yet also fits her realistic style. In their language and stories, we experience the people and struggle in this particular world. Ibrahim and Eli are not alone on stage. The off-stage violence penetrates all of their interactions as does their love for their families. The café setting is deceptively simple, but allows Bolkvadze to bring the world on stage.
This is an ambitious play that challenges the audience to reconsider what they might think about these characters and their situations again and again. Ibrahim and Eli struggle to make sense of their power, privilege, and lives in an explosive situation. This makes for great drama.
—Andrea Hairston, drama judge
Excerpt from current work:
From Ugly Baby, Stupid Baby
I went to New York with my wife – the first one. I hated it, though.
It was just… not my place, not my people. I did not feel any history in the buildings, no energy from anyone. It felt… plastic – not real, not lasting. My son has travelled, though. He met his fiancé when he was studying in France.
Is he going to move there then?
No, she is planning to make aliyah in the next year.
(IBRAHIM gives a short laugh.)
It’s funny to me.
What is funny?
This girl – she has never been to Israel, yes?
No, she has. She came to visit in the Spring.
For how long?
Two… three weeks.
So, this girl –
Okay, this Elise, who has spent two, maybe three weeks in Israel will move here, and the moment she lands here she will have all the rights, all of the access that I don’t have – that my wife doesn’t have. And now my wife, whose family had lived in Haifa for generations, whose parents and grandparents swam in the Mediterranean, has to spend ten hours traveling 150 kilometers to visit her parents in Ramallah. Soldiers, whose parents were born in Russia and Ethiopia and the U.S., tell my Palestinian wife where she can and cannot go in her own country. You want to know why I do not go with her to Ramallah? I will tell you. Because it is humiliating to have this child, this skinny boy, or sometimes a girl even, a teenager, look over my wife’s identification like she is some sort of trespasser – it makes me feel hate, the same kind of hate when I think about Amal eating and sleeping in your jails.
… My son was the most beautiful baby. I mean, I’m supposed to say that about my daughter I know, but really, my son was more beautiful – the most beautiful. He had big dark eyes, and later these brown curls. I could not keep my eyes off of him. And such a happy baby – really. He would let anybody hold him. You would tell him “kiss” and he would pucker up – to anyone. He was lovely –
But, he’s still alive?
But… when he was nine, we were in synagogue and he was sitting a little separate from us, and there was this old man there with a cane, and he dropped it during the service, and everyone turned to look, and Ronén reached down and picked up the cane… and then for the rest of the service Ronén helped the man. He would take the man’s sidor and turn to the right page, give the man his arm when it was time to stand up. That is just the type of boy he was… But when he was about sixteen, seventeen he would go out with his friends. Nice friends, Avigdor and Tal. He had known them since second grade, and they would go out. We knew they were drinking, that Ronén had started smoking, but we were not so worried. Ronén was a smart kid. Not like some of these others… One night I heard him come home around three-thirty – I can never sleep until all four of us are in the house. And I heard him in the kitchen, knocking around a bit, so I went downstairs, and he was – his face was bruised on the left side, and then his right hand was red and swollen. And I said, “Ronén, what happened? Are you okay?” And he smiled at me, and said, “Yes, Abba, I am great.” I asked him, “Who hurt you?” And he says, “We went out looking for Arabs, and we found some. Don’t worry, they look a lot worse than this”… And I thought, “He is gone… my lovely boy is gone.”