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 guidelines will be posted mid-May 2019, and the deadline to apply will be Friday, August 2, 2019.
2019 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Natalie Hirt earned an MFA from UC Riverside. Her short stories and essays are published or forthcoming in various literary magazines, including Kalliope, Rumpus, Orangelandia, The Selkie and Tiferet. She lives in Oregon where she is working on a novel.
Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
People. I am an unabashed people-watcher. What they do, how they do it, what they say, and when. These things are irresistible to me. When I was a kid, I wasn’t as discreet, and I’d be scolded by the teacher for daydreaming or threatened after school by other kids. They’d say, “Whatchu lookin’ at?” and I’d think, oh man, was I staring off again?
I used to think there was something wrong with me. Now I know my nosiness was just my curiosity about the human experience. It was my way to gather a life’s store of writing material.
As much as I love people, reading about them is the best inspiration for me to write. I’m a fan of literary journals. A short story that strikes me right in the heart will instantly put me in the mood to write. A couple of favorites are Bellevue Literary Review, the Sun, and Tiferet. I’ll also read any book, any shard of writing by Luis Alberto Urrea, Sandra Cisneros, Lidia Yuknavitch, or Jacqueline Woodson. Their words inspire my own stories to flow and I go back to them repeatedly for examples of structure, imagery and lyricism. I also read poetry every day, especially just before I sit down to write. Right now, I’m reading poet, Natalie Diaz. On repeat. I can’t even tell you how many days in a row I’ve read When My Brother was an Aztec before I put my own pen to paper. Poetry is often the best place to find a turn of phrase or an image to help guide me in my own writing.
How would you describe your creative process?
I’m a night owl. I love the quiet of the night for actual writing. In the morning, with a cup of coffee, I go back and read over whatever was written the night before. See if I like it and keep going or else, I’ll go for a walk and think. The truth is I’m thinking about the story all the time. In the grocery store buying lettuce or at the mall getting a Birthday gift, I’m still in my own world furthering the story. It’s never really that far from my mind. If I’m not thinking about my own writing, I’m thinking about someone else’s. I just finished Pam Houston’s book, Deep Creek, and wherever I go, I’m letting all the feels go through me as I envision her on her big ranch in Colorado where the snow drifts are higher than the fence posts. The homesteaders cabin. The donkeys. There she is in her barn coat trying to warm her chickens. I can see it. Even though I’ve never experienced anything like that. Then I go home and try to emulate good writing that allows other people to feel the story I’m trying to give them.
What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
I am amazed to have received this honor and be included among such talented writers. That I get to stand in the same spotlight with them is humbling, and I’m looking forward to meeting every one of them and getting to know their work. Receiving this fellowship is also validation that I have a story to tell, and that I’m doing what I should be doing. I reached out with my heart and gave a panel of judges a story. And somehow, they took my story and felt it with me. For a loner daydreamy-type person, this fellowship is sweet validation that I could find a way to make connections through writing.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been told that all writing is political, and the things I gravitate to tend to be women and children’s issues, and how they pertain to immigration and racism, and the power dynamics in a marriage within a patriarchal society. I write about how a home can be completely dysfunctional and still have so much love. Perhaps because of my years teaching kindergarten, the project I’m working on involves my curiosity about the effects of domestic violence on children, and how it informs a child’s perspective about the world. How does she overcome growing up normalizing violence in her home? How does she reconcile the confusion of a raging father and his sweet apologetic demeanor later? My current novel is told from the point of view of a child navigating a complicated adult world where she learns what it means to be a woman until she’s old enough to form her own conclusions.
What advice do you have for future applicants?
Apply! Apply! Apply!
I am a writer who suffers from feeling like a fraud most of the time. Why am I bothering with my little stories? Who will care about these characters?
Even though I often feel like a fraud, the truth is I have been practicing for a long time and I’ve studied under some amazing authors. I’m fortunate to be included in some incredible writer’s groups. I would advise any aspiring writer to do the same. Read a lot. Write a lot. Find a writer’s group.
Find someone who believes in you. I have a dear friend who encouraged me to apply. She said, “What do you have to lose?” I loved that she believed in me, and that helped me believe in myself. So, I applied as an exercise in putting myself out there, and so I could tell her that I followed through. But we all know Oregon is full of seriously talented writers. I didn’t think I would actually win anything. The thing is, you never know who is judging and what will resonate with them on that day.
Which leads me back to my friend Suzie’s words, “What do you have to lose?”
Comments by judge, Christine H. Lee
“Natalie Hirt has composed a straight up charismatic adolescent voice that talks about burritos to boobs and who (without breaking character and working within a child’s limited first person narrative) addresses family dynamics, misogyny, and internalized racism through a child’s lens. Hirt has created a captivating narrator with whom I fell in love over the course of the manuscript–and would stick with for hundreds of pages more. In particular, I loved one section in which the protagonist talks about coloring books with her father–and even though the scene stayed within the child-narrator’s realm of crayons and coloring books–Hirt leverages the choices of crayon color, of coloring style, of what they decide to color–to give us a picture of the fragile relationship between narrator and father. This one scene informs the ways in which entire lives are lived.”
Excerpt from Spilling the Beans
The pot of beans had been simmering all morning as everyone in the house prepared for a picnic at the church. My house was wonderful in bean smell, roasted chilies, and Grandma’s famous rice. It smelled even better than the burrito factory down the street. Way better.
Mama’s bedroom was sticky with Aqua Net hairspray as she and my aunties and cousins filled up the room to get ready for the picnic. I stood behind the door tucked in the corner, trying to ignore the comments about my big eyebrows and how much I looked like my father.
“She’s light, but she didn’t get his blue eyes.”
“No, but she sure got his eyebrows!” Then gales of giggles. I couldn’t open my mouth to defend myself because then they would make fun of my Spanish. They didn’t understand why I didn’t speak it like everyone else. Mama told me she did it that way on purpose. She did her best not to speak it at home. She didn’t want her children to suffer like she did the first time she came to this country, eleven-years-old in the second grade, and in all Special Ed. classes just because she didn’t know English. She always felt like a second-class citizen because she was Mexican, a fruit picker. She wanted more for us. That’s why my daddy is white. She told me I would do better because of it, as long as I never married Mexican. But I wasn’t ever to tell, so I couldn’t tell my cousins why—why I didn’t speak Spanish with them, why there was never a way for me to fit in, and how much they hurt me when they left me out and talked about my whiteness.
“No, but Rosa’s granddaughter, she got the light eyes,” Anita said. “She came out very pretty.”
“Oh, I didn’t know the daddy was white.”
“He’s not. He’s Spaniard.” Like somehow this was better.