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Meet Kelly Garrett, 2020 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2020 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 eleven writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. For the first time, Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each. The 2021 OLF applications will be posted in May 2020, and the deadline to apply will be in August 2020. All of the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients will be honored at the 2020 Oregon Book Awards Ceremony.

2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Kelly Garrett (she/her/hers)

Young Readers

Kelly Garrett’s debut YA novel, The Last To Die, was a 2018 Oregon Book Award finalist and was reissued by Sourcebooks Fire in November 2019. Her first novel for adults will be published in April 2021 by Kensington Books. After growing up on the Oregon Coast, Kelly graduated from Pacific University and now calls Portland home, where she organizes multiple literary-related lecture series.

Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
Most of my story ideas are born from the question “what if.” This usually leads me to the inciting incident of a story, and from there, it’s a matter of rounding out the situation. Like most writers, I’m also a lifelong reader, and I can proudly say one of the authors that sparked my love of novels is a fellow Oregonian: Beverly Cleary.

How would you describe your creative process?
I tend to develop the character and the plot of my novels in tandem. When I start a new project, I usually know two things: the inciting incident and the eventual conclusion. Then I fill in the details that round out the novel as I draft it.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship? 
Writing is a solo endeavor, and it’s nice to have my work recognized. It’s also wonderful to receive funds to invest in my career and projects. I’m going to a retreat with a Printz-winning author later this year that I wouldn’t have been able to attend without the fellowship.

What are you currently working on? 
This is always a fun, and involved, question. I’m editing a novel that’s coming out in April 2021 that’s set at a Portland food cart pod under threat of redevelopment. I’m also working on Portland-inspired follow-up ideas since the book is the first of three-book contract. I’m also editing another YA manuscript and sketching out ideas on a new project.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
Take the plunge and apply, even if you’re nervous! You’ll never be successful if you don’t try. And if you want to publish poems, short stories, novels, etc., you’re going to send out your own work.

As far as aspiring writers, I also recommend reading a wide range of fiction, and spend time with novels you *don’t* like. Taking the time to unpack why a story doesn’t work for you can be as valuable as analyzing why you do enjoy it.  

Excerpt from No Angels Here
It sucks the universe doesn’t tell you when your life is about to explode. 

Granted, it gave me warning signs. The night before everything changed, I was pretending to finish my homework while trying to ignore my track meet the next day. I had a plan: qualify for state for the second year in a row. Get a college scholarship. Leave. Never look back.

When my phone rang at 9:30 PM, I answered and heard a voice yelling over the din of voices and a jukebox playing country music. My whole body felt exhausted as the sound of the call washed over me.

“Do you know Susan Clark?” the voice asked. Male. 

“Yeah.” My whole body slumped.

“Susan needs a ride home. She said you’d pick her up.”

“Where is she?”

“The Roadhouse on Highway 101.”

“Be there in twenty minutes,” I said and hung up. I sat for a moment, thinking about staying home and letting my mom fend for herself, but instead, I went with the path of less resistance: I pulled on a jacket, grabbed my bicycle, and cycled down dark streets to the bar just outside of the town limits. Even though I should be in bed, sleeping, so I’d race well the next day. But there isn’t much of a cab service in dinky Quamash Springs, and I couldn’t leave my mother at a bar. The risk if she drove was too much.

Judge’s Comments
“‘It sucks the universe doesn’t tell you when your life is about to explode.’ So begins Kelly Garrett’s riveting YA novel No Angels Here. Moments later, fifteen-year-old Aster Clark is biking through the dark, on her way to rescue her mom from the bar where she is too drunk to drive home. In spare, vivid language, Garrett effectively and engagingly portrays Aster’s struggle to keep it all together: balancing her mom, her grades, and the pressure she puts on herself to excel at track, which may be her only way out of the little town of Quamash Springs, and out of her life. But when Mom’s drinking leads to a tragic accident that injures three of her classmates, Aster’s life goes from bad to worse. Sure, she gets to stay with her friend Hazel’s family, but there’s the daily guilt Aster feels for her injured classmates, and her terror that the police will succeed in tracking down her father, a man she barely remembers, and yet the memories she has are dark and painful. Can Aster run fast enough to escape her life? Or will she have to turn and face it? Garrett has skillfully created an authentic and sympathetic hero in Aster, and a compelling set of familial, economic, and internal challenges that many teens will identify with. No Angels Here is reminiscent of Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson.” — Kevin Emerson

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