We’re thrilled to introduce the 2019 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 thirteen writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. The 2020 OLF applications will be posted mid-May 2019, and the deadline to apply will be Friday, August 2, 2019.
2019 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Ana-Maurine Lara, Ph.D., is a national award-winning poet and fiction writer. She is author of the fictional works Erzulie’s Skirt (RedBone Press, 2006), When the Sun Once Again Sang to the People (KRK Ediciones, 2011), and Watermarks and Tree Rings (Tanama Press) and the poetry book Kohnjehr Woman (RedBone Press, 2017). The first of her decade-long projects, Cantos, was released as a limited edition letterpress collection in Fall 2015. Lara is an assistant professor at the University of Oregon.
Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
My work is rooted in my relationship to my ancestors. I am inspired by their struggles of survival in the face of seemingly unsurmountable odds. In the process of writing, I am also inspired by visual artists – the ways in which they can engage with physical and cybernetic materials, bodies, frames, images – to imagine beauty, freedom, and memory in entirely new ways. Lastly, I am inspired by questions about the relationship between people and land. Relationships between people and land are not usually easy, or cut and dry. These relationships are rooted in specific histories, in specific knowledges, and in questions of survival. Land is messy. It is the stuff our wars are made of.
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is constantly evolving with respect to the needs of the work itself. In general, though, my process is a sort of creative mediumship. The characters from my imagination, who are often related to my ancestors, are brought into material form through ritual. Writing is ritual. I light a candle. I prepare my writing space. I sit in silence and I listen. I enter and exit the space/worlds in which my characters live in the same way that I enter sacred ceremonial grounds. I see it as an immense privilege to be able to spend time with them, in their realities. When I am in the generative phase of my writing, I will set aside a specific block of time (maybe 30 minutes, maybe 4 hours – depending on what’s going on for me), and that is my deep knowing time, when I enter and exit the worlds of my characters. I spend as much time with them as I can. Then, I set the writing aside and conduct research related to the worlds they have shown me. I return to the work, either to generate more material or to edit. When I am editing – and I do see generation and editing of writing as interrelated but separate processes – I set aside time every day to go back into the work and to play with language and images. I keep my dictionaries and thesauruses next to me, and I just go. At the editing stage, spending time with the work every day is key. The continuity allows me to maintain the story close to me, while I am doing other things.
What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
Oh so many things! One, to learn about and have the opportunity to be in fellowship with other writers from across Oregon. Being in Eugene (and not Portland), writing community can sometimes feel so far away. And secondly, to have resources available to set aside time for writing. Writers are incredibly creative people when it comes to our money-paying labor. So, to have the support to be able to spend time with my writing and to be funded to do that…that is wonderful. Lastly, having this kind of support is so powerful when so much time has gone by when I am just by myself with the writing.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on Injured Stone. It is a novel that has had various iterations. A few years ago, a friend told me she thought this novel is an epic. And I have to say, I am starting to agree with her. Just when I think it’s finished, I discover new surprises in the plot, and in the characters themselves. Truth be told, I love being in the particular worlds/spaces I find myself in with this book. But yes – I am working on this right now, and looking forward (kind of) to that moment when it is done.
What advice do you have for future applicants?
Be yourself. Trust yourself. Persist. Stay focused. And most importantly, enjoy yourself. I get my inspiration from other artists who stay focused on the work, and not the validation. I have learned from them that focusing on the work means that nothing is lost by trying. Receiving support and fellowship becomes a bonus: something joyful and unexpected. In moments when I haven’t received an award, a grant or recognition, what becomes important is knowing that I had a good time trying, that I learned something new about the work itself, and that I feel good about where it’s going, even if I have more work to do.
Comments from Judge, Christine H. Lee
“Ana-Maurine’s choice of structure in her manuscript is just the beginning of the ways in which she addresses layers within story and narrative and history and community. In choosing multiple narrators (from young to old, from man to woman, from insider to outsider) within her submission, I as a reader experienced her endurance as a writer alongside the multiple facets of event of voice of representation–the list goes on. I was blown away by this epic story. Add to that Lara’s command of language–the sentences alone are worth revisiting–and here is a story and writer worth reading.”
Excerpt from Injured Stone
I stopped near a small waterfall. The water was coming down between the roots of a tree, and there was a shallow pool at its base. I stripped down to my underwear and lowered myself into the cold water. As I was bathing, the digo that was on my skin spread out in small blue clouds in the water. I suddenly heard laughter everywhere around me.
“Who’s there?” I called out.
There was more laughter. The laughter sounded like crystals and broken glass. It was not human. I was scared that if I stayed there longer, the water spirits would play tricks on me. I rushed out of the water and put my clothes on. And then I walked until I found a flat boulder on which to sleep. And there I lay down, exhausted.
But my dreams were no respite from the journey. As I closed my eyes, the air filled with butterflies. I could feel them along my skin, dancing on my head. I dreamed of the waterfall, and in the rocks behind the water, there were small children. They were laughing, and singing and they were dancing in small circles on top of the water.
Dans dans dan-lo.
Chesch la, pasa.
The water was a golden river and hundreds gathered at her edges, their bodies painted red and black, their chests covered in the same gold. And at their feet, a serpent – a large multi-colored serpent – danced in circles and patterns on the ground, drawing the universe into being. I saw the drawings on the ground and they were also made of gold. The children continued their song.
I awakened, but in the trees there were only small birds and insects chirping. I sat up. My skin was covered in a fine golden dust. I traced a finger along my forearm. It was the dust of butterfly wings. I reasoned to myself that the forest was enchanted, and that it would trap me if I stayed any longer. So, I stood up and continued on, but it was still daytime, and I couldn’t tell which way was east or west because I couldn’t find the sun. And so I decided to climb up, until I was high enough to see where I was and where I needed to go.