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“Do the work you were put here to do. Write the stories that only you can write.” 2019 Fellow, Marcus Lund

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
Marcus Lund


Marcus Lund lives in Portland and has an MFA from Mills College. His work has appeared in Paper Darts, 580 Split, 34th Parallel, and APT Magazine, among many others. In 2016, Quiet Lightning Books published The Sacred Text of Rosa Who is Great. He is currently seeking representation for a completed novel.

Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
I try to pay attention when I’m out in the world. I take notes. I listen to people and the sounds of a place. I listen to a lot of music and watch a lot of movies. I really just love art and those moments when it feels like I can understand the artist, am put in their shoes. Art offers avenues for connection. As far as writers, my favorites are those who write like no one else. Writers like Clarice Lispector, Grace Paley, and Borges. Tom Spanbauer has taught me so much about being unabashedly queer in my stories. I love Orhan Pamuk, Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and James Baldwin.

How would you describe your creative process?
The biggest part of my of my creative process is getting to my desk each and every day. When I am writing the first draft of something, I tell myself no one will ever read it so I can play around a lot. I explore. I write silly, improbable things and slowly, a story unfolds and reveals itself. I try to maintain that sense of playfulness throughout the writing process. The good stuff, or the heat, is in the moments were everything seems unlikely but we write it anyways. I want to be surprised by my own writing. I feel like if I am surprised, then my readers will definitely be surprised. Of course, there comes a time when I need to heave the book or the story or the essay, and then it’s all work. At this stage I make sure everything fits together and flows in the way it should. I tighten sentences. Throughout every stage, I read my work out loud. Every sentence, over and over again.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
Awards and fellowships are validating which is so important in an industry where we are often working for years on a project without much recognition from the outside world. Sometimes it can feel like I write in a vacuum, particularly with the novel I just finished, since only a couple of people have read it and it was to give me notes. Sometimes I can get in my own head and then I have a hard time recognizing when something I’m writing is any good. It means a lot to me to win a fellowship like this based on a project not many people have seen.

What are you currently working on?
I finished a novel, so I’ve been tightening and proofreading for the past few weeks. I am also sending out agent queries, looking for someone to represent it. It’s a book about a boy who has a bird in his chest who talks to him. It’s magical and weird and I’m really proud of it. I’ve also started something new which I don’t want to say too much about because I am still in the exploration part of the process and I’m still learning what it’s about. I will say that sometimes it feels like we are already living in a dystopian future, and the revolution will be led by transfemmes.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
Keep working. Write every day and keep applying to fellowships and keep submitting work and write some more. Do the work you were put here to do. Write the stories that only you can write. Keep submitting. Fellowships and funding in general are integral to the writing community at large, but you won’t win every award or all of the fellowships. You may not win any for a long time, but that shouldn’t keep you from writing the story inside of you.

Comments by judge, Christine H. Lee
“In ‘The Boy with a Bird in his Chest,’ Marcus Lund starts his story in Montana and then expands into mythology. As the title states, there is a boy with a bird in his chest–a bird that appears in the wake of what seems like a medical emergency. Its appearance is framed within the terror of new motherhood, precisely the only time a bird in a son’s chest might readily be accepted in lieu of death. What an apt choice by Lund, a decision executed with gentle and lyrical turns of phrase. The imagination and tenderness of this piece–its understanding of mothers and sons–struck me and stayed with me as I read through stack after stack of stories.”

Excerpt from The Boy with a Bird in his Chest
The bird did not show up in his chest for five days. In that time, Owen was diagnosed (wrongly) with an extreme heart murmur and was given anywhere between one week and eighty-five years to live. The hospital room was a rotating door of doctors and nurses and social workers and grief counselors who were unrelenting. His mother, Janice, sat in bed with her boy on her shoulder and answered their questions and let them administer their tests. Each was a soldier moving closer and closer to taking her boy away from her, so on the second night, she got out of bed, dug her car keys out of the bottom of the hospital-issued plastic bag that contained her personal items (wet jeans and parka were left in the bag), and she left the hospital, vowing never to let another doctor near her child.
She prepared to grieve.
She thought at worst, Owen could die at home as comfortable as possible. She turned the living room into a living memorial, placed peonies at the foot of his basinet, cleaned his toys and arranged them near the television as an altar and she smoked cigarettes like each one was a prayer that she whispered to the wind and blew out the dining room window. But each morning he woke up next to her. She would get up, reheat a casserole left for her by a coworker and put the coffeepot on. With each day that he survived, it seemed his luck increased. On the third day, she woke up and found something seriously wrong with her boy.
He had a large hole in his chest. Three of his tiny, baby-sized ribs were exposed, and inside the ribcage, next to his heart and lungs was a baby bird.
He was the luckiest boy in whole world.

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