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“Find a way to get out of your head to get into your work. Write, polish, enjoy, submit, forget about it, repeat.” 2019 Fellow, Amy Baskin

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 at the end of April, and the deadline to apply will be Friday, July 12, 2019.

2019 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient 
Amy Baskin

Young Readers

Amy’s recent work has appeared in VoiceCatcher, Cirque, and Friends Journal. She is a 2018 Willamette Writers Kay Snow Poetry honorable mention recipient. She matches international students at Lewis & Clark College with local volunteers to help make them feel welcome and at home during their stay.

Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
Everything! Too general? You! Lately? Reading poems at 5:45 am before I start the day. Oprah SuperSoul Podcasts. The people at Homeboy Industries, Fr. Greg Boyle, and his practice of radical kinship. All acts of kindness, gratitude, and presence.

I find inspiration in every person I meet. I’m learning that I can disagree with someone and still be in awe of them and how much they can teach me. I find inspiration everywhere I go, and I am grateful to have grown up in many places around the world. I find inspiration in every book I read. I breathe in the works on my bedstand each night as I sleep. A snapshot of the current stacks include books by James Marshall, Tayari Jones, Madeline L’Engle, Madeleine Miller, Cynthia Rylant, Renee Watson, Alex Gino, Joy McCullough, Neil Gaiman, Allison Joseph, Megan Merchant, Jenn Givhan, Billy Collins, Wendy Chin-Tanner, and Rachel Custer. My family and close friends inspire me to reduce the book stack clutter in case of earthquakes, get out of bed, and keep breathing.

How would you describe your creative process?
My process? First, I have to let my brain play dress up and strut in flouncy costumes because it loves performance. I watch it pretend it’s a noble monk writing for no one, living off silence and Trappist beer. Then it pretends it’s writing for someone, a child, perhaps, and its words will one day save that child’s life. It pretends it’s writing for all sentient consciousness, as the very arteries of the universe depend upon the regularity of its words to keep pumping. My brain sometimes skulks around wearing all black, imagining it’s Neil Gaiman or Johnny Cash or Elvira. It tells me “it all matters.” It tells me “nothing matters.” It says all these things while crushing my spine with a 5-inch stiletto and stamping out cigarettes on my forehead. After awhile, my brain curls up and falls asleep, exhausted, under my desk. Later, when I look up, I notice writing has occurred. If I stay still, my brain sleeps on this for awhile. When I finally let it look at the work that has been written, my brain does not know who wrote it. If someone tells me it’s good, my brain takes the credit. If someone calls it junk, my brain scolds me. I tell it to go and play in the dress up bin for awhile longer and it scrambles to put on its favorite hairshirt. I scratch and itch and wait for it to fall asleep again.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
I’m grateful that Zan Romanoff was the judge for young readers literature and that she liked my submission. I’m thankful for the funds to help me complete my current project and attend AWP in Portland which I would not have done otherwise. I am most excited to meet the other fellowship recipients and learn about their work. Thanks to Oregon Literary Arts, I’ll have this opportunity.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a top-secret novel in verse, a collection of poetry, and a file drawer of picture book manuscripts.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
Find a way to get out of your head to get into your work. Write, polish, enjoy, submit, forget about it, repeat. In my case, it only took 6 submissions to OLA to strike gold. That’s less than a decade. Huzzah! Find the joy in creating and be grateful for the opportunity. If there’s not enough joy in this process, do something else. You’ve got time.

Excerpt from 14 Adam Drive, Singapore
—a pantoum

Why did Salma leave us so suddenly
soon after we moved in the house?
Mom says we left rice unsealed in the pantry
that soon became a birthing bed for maggots.

Soon after we moved in the house,
our dog was mauled by another wild dog.
Its brain became a birthing bed for maggots.
We hadn’t learned that dogs here were unclean.

The day Dad brought the dog to roam like our old pets,
my parents tried to duplicate the world where we once lived.
They hadn’t learned that dogs here were unclean.
Salma taught me that her name means “safe.”

My parents tried to replicate back yards in the Midwest,
though maid’s quarters behind our house were something new to us.
Salma taught me how to cook Nasi Goreng1
and how to fry bird chilies that tickled the back of my throat.

Maid’s quarters behind our home were something new to me.

I joined her in her hideaway with mat and chair.
Her bird chilies delighted the tip of my tongue.
Salma gave me books to learn Bahasa Melayu.2

Terimah kasih,3 Salma, my mentor in batik.
I know why you left us so suddenly.
Saya minta maaf4 our dog drove you away.
It was never the rice unsealed in the pantry.

1 a Malaysian rice dish
2 Malay, the Malaysian language
3 Thank you
4 I’m sorry

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