We’re thrilled to introduce the 2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected eighteen writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. The 2019 OLF applications will be posted at the end of April, and the deadline to apply will be Monday, July 9, 2018.
2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Reema Zaman is an award-winning writer, speaker, sexual assault survivor and recovery coach. Born in Bangladesh, raised in Thailand, and presently residing in Oregon, she holds a double BA in Gender Studies and Theater from Skidmore College. A winner of the prestigious Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship 2018, Reema is the author of the forthcoming memoir I Am Yours (April 2019). Her work has been published in B*tch Magazine, VIDA, SHAPE, Hippocampus, NAILED, Full Grown People, The Huffington Post, and Your Tango, with forthcoming titles in The Rumpus and Narratively. She is the creator of Dear Reema, where she responds to readers’ letters on healing and rising from sexual assault, divorce, anorexia, heartbreak, and trauma, on building self-esteem, self-love, and forgiveness, and the power of owning one’s voice.
As a speaker, Reema tackles challenging topics and vulnerable stories with exceptional poise, eloquence, and warmth. Her most notable talk is You Are The Voice. Merging motivational speech, theater, and spoken word, You Are The Voice is on healing and rising beyond rape and other adversities. It explores the power within all women, our ability to be the authors of our lives and leaders in the larger world. She performs at various colleges, conferences, and other venues. Her other acclaimed talk is “Me Too, Now What: The Art of Turning Tragedy into Triumph”.
In her work as a sexual assault and self-harm recovery coach, Reema leverages her lived and learned knowledge to be of service to others. She is the creator of “Me Too, Now What: Healing + Empowerment for Survivors and Allies“, a program that integrates writing exercises, meditation, and yoga to foster holistic healing and empowerment. She has the honor of working in person, in group coaching, and leading workshops.
Reema is an Oregon Literary Arts Fellow 2018, and was a finalist for Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Voice is a Muscle Award, 2017. Her essay The Authored Self is a Pushcart Prize 2018 nominee. Her essay The Harvest of Bodies is part of her Oregon Literary Arts Award winning piece, from the second memoir she is currently writing. You can listen to the essay here, on The Storytellers Telling Stories Podcast. The core messages resonant in all her mediums are, Only you author your life. All you need, you hold within. For essays, videos, press, and more, please visit www.reemazaman.com
Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
I’m inspired by human beings. I’m inspired by our relationships, the choices we make, our capacity for love, empathy, kindness, creativity, humility, forgiveness, self-improvement, and courage, as well as our capacity for cruelty, indignity, disrespect, injustice, and harm, inflicted towards others and ourselves. The areas I’m most passionate about and explore in my writing are resilience, gender and family dynamics, social justice, alienation, the female body, voice, and spirit, self-betrayal and self-authored empowerment, and our ability to heal, persevere, and rise.
How would you describe your creative process?
My process is extremely disciplined, calm, painless, focused, and direct. I’ve detailed the process below but basically, every day, I sit, I write, I revise, I pitch, I publish. I keep an immaculate, clean apartment, desk, and life. Also, I don’t use pen and paper. I only type.
I have exceptionally high standards for myself, my talent, my work, and my career trajectory. They are directly due to who I am. I am a woman from Bangladesh. I was born in Dhaka and I immigrated to the United States at 18 to pursue my higher education and a profession in the arts and public advocacy. I’m continually cognizant of how lucky I am to be able to choose my profession, especially as that of a writer, public speaker, and feminist thought leader. My parents fought tirelessly to give me my education and opportunities. I believe I was born for the purpose of being a voice for those who have been silenced. I will do my all to continually meet, fulfill, and protect my purpose. My creative process and my lifestyle choices reflect and honor this mission, this promise.
I love solitude and silence. My relationship with my writing is the most effortless relationship in my life. No moment spent writing ever feels arduous or anguished. I love working, setting and meeting deadlines and assignments, and have from the time I was a toddler. I’m an extremely disciplined, happy, and calm person. Through a mix of being born in a third-world country, my decades spent as an actor and model, my unusual volume of trials and adversity, and by being a practicing Buddhist and long-distance runner, it takes a lot to ever frazzle, worry, pain, stress, or distract me.
I don’t experience writer’s block, nor do I allow myself to wallow in self-doubt or hesitation. My twenties were spent running from one day-job and audition after another. I trained myself to memorize any bit of writing that popped into my head. Then, after a 16 hour day of babysitting, waitressing, auditioning, and performing, I would write down what I had memorized that day at either midnight, or the next morning at 4:30am before going to the gym 5:30am (an actor’s life). Thus nowadays, I relish and respect the luxury of being able to write all day long. I don’t waste my hard earned time on insecurity, procrastination, doubt, or fear.
As mentioned, I have a very strict daily writing, and living, process. Martha Graham said, “Discipline is liberation.” A creature of routine, work-ethic, and habit, I live by this code. A usual day is the following: I wake at 7am, say aloud my morning gratitude affirmations, rise and make my bed, brush my teeth, put on the coffee, do yoga for 10 minutes, meditate for 10, make my breakfast of oatmeal, seeds, fruit, and coffee, sit with it at my desk, write in my prayer/gratitude journal as I eat, then I read a chapter of a book I’m reading while I finish the last bites. This entire morning ritual will be completed by 8:30am. Then, I write from 8:30 to 10 or 11am, I leave for my daily run of 7 miles, I shower and eat lunch, then resume writing until 5 or 7pm, depending on the day. Any business emails are taken care of in the very beginning of the morning block, or at the very end of the evening block. At 6 or 7pm I make dinner and eat while watching a thoughtful or beautiful movie, or an episode of a thoughtful, intelligent TV series. I get into bed around 10 or 10:30 every night (unless I’m at an event or performing), I read, then fall asleep by 11pm. I repeat the same routine the following day.
Manuscripts come to me fully formed and intact. I’ll go to bed chewing on a specific idea, and I’ll wake with the full essay or chapter, ready to be typed. I type it up during my morning block. I’ll revise it in my mind while I’m running my daily miles. Upon my return, I upload the edits into the draft written that morning.
I’m vegan, I don’t eat sugar, salt, gluten, or anything processed or premade, I don’t drink alcohol, and I eat the same three meals seven days a week. I mention all this for it is all part of my creative process. For me, I excel and thrive from routine, habit, serenity, and health. For me, physical discipline, excellence, and rigor yield creative and mental discipline, excellence, and rigor. I have found that I need my body, mind, and spirit to perform at their highest level of clarity, focus, fitness, and wellness in order to maintain my high self-assigned standards of work, talent, and productivity. I abhor chaos and drama. I’m very disciplined and protective about personal boundaries and I’m choosy and deliberate with social engagements and friendships. The moment someone exhibits any trace of negative energy, from addiction to anarchy to gossip to unkindness, I quietly evict them from my life. I will not let anyone jeopardize my wellbeing or the wellbeing, trajectory, and success of my purpose, work, and career.
Much in part to my cultural and professional background, my values, and my personality, I’m nonplussed by rejection and find every bit of the writing life and publishing landscape to be exhilarating. Furthermore, as an entrepreneur and activist, I love finding ways to succeed within and beyond the publishing industry. One of the most rewarding parts of my career is that I’ve seamlessly transitioned my writing into a life as a public speaker, teacher, and advocate for women’s empowerment.
What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
I am excited and grateful two-fold.
One, the prestigious affirmation of my work is exhilarating and heartening. My fellowship submission consisted of the first three chapters of my second memoir, I Am My Own. To receive an award and fellowship for this work is perhaps the highest, most profound affirmation a new manuscript could ask for. Furthermore, I feel such pride knowing that my talent has earned this acknowledgement and reward.
Two, the monetary gift of the award is considerably moving and helpful. Every little bit helps and matters so greatly. An essay sold here, a monetary award there, such is the life of a freelance writer. The fellowship helps me continue my work with an ease and freedom that come from having my entire day devoted to my career, without having to compartmentalize and distribute my energy by working side jobs to supplement my income.
What are you currently working on?
I recently sold and signed my first book deal for my completed memoir manuscript, I Am Yours. I’m presently in the final round of edits with my publisher and agent. Alongside that manuscript, I’m working on my second memoir, I Am My Own. And at any given time, I’m writing and pitching new essays for various magazines and journals. Additionally, as a speaker and storyteller, I’m always in some point of the script writing-rehearsing-performance process for two or three speeches, conferences, and performances.
I also teach courses at Lidia Yuknavitch’s Corporeal Writing Center, and my work there is a seamless extension of my work as a writer. As a speaker and teacher, all my talks and courses begin by my writing a detailed, scripted speech or syllabus. When onstage or in class, I use that original script and syllabus as my diving board, and perform and teach according to the present audience, atmosphere, and needs.
What advice do you have for future applicants?
If you want to be an exceptional writer, you have to set and hold yourself to exceptional standards. The writing and publishing life, which includes applying for and winning fellowships, is hard and if and only if you are willing to persistently commit, discipline, hone, and improve your talent, it can be incredibly rewarding. But no one will do the work for you. Not the actual writing, not the work of learning how to pitch, how to query, how to write work that is uniquely personal and intimate yet universally resonant and powerful, the work of creating, protecting, and using your time and energy wisely, the work of becoming your own best life-coach and editor, and the work of building a business and taking care of your self-esteem through the rough waves of life. Your work as a writer includes and is all of this.
You must find the audacity to become both your own lighthouse and anchor. Everyone else, everything else are the waves. Sometimes the waves will be helpful, pushing you along towards your desired destination. Other times the waves will be tumultuous, pushing against your raw, freezing skin. Through it all, you must train yourself to be and remain your own lighthouse and anchor. Your capacity to do this will directly influence your probability of success.
Use everything, every wound, every trial, every challenge as fodder for your brilliance. Notice the wisdom, magic, dragons, and mentors around you. Absorb and alchemize it all. Don’t spend unnecessary time (or money) in class, in one degree after another. After a while, sitting inside the confines of a classroom is fear manifested as procrastination and avoidance. Make sure to live deeply and fully out in the real world. Write to turn your wounds into wisdom, pain into poetry, and fury into function. Great writing is not driven by anguish, anger, revenge, greed, or ego. Great writing is fueled by the commitment to find light within the darkness. You are this light, as are your words. Write to heal and transform yourself, then write to heal and elevate the world.
Only you author your life.
The first two scenes of my winning submission were published as a standalone essay in Hippocampus Magazine. Here is the link. Other essays, videos, press, and more can be found at www.reemazaman.com.
Judge’s Comments from judge Brian Blanchfield:
Reema Zaman gradually acquaints the reader to her life, mediated by the tense dialogue she has with the women whose children she teaches at daycare, with a technician who is testing her for suitability as an egg donor, and with casting executives interested in her for a commercial. The pervasive ethnocentrist microaggressions agitate the very atmosphere this essayist carefully records, as she sorts her options and assesses her life and aspirations with uncommon candor and prevailing perspective. It’s tremendous writing.