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The Portland nonprofit Literary Arts has set up a $100,000 emergency relief fund for Oregon writers, including playwrights, cartoonists and poets.
As of Wednesday, writers who meet eligibility requirements can apply on the Literary Arts website for onetime $1,000 grants to make up for lost income or revenue or to plug other financial holes. Applications close May 13.
“The writers of our community, a lot of them are bartenders and waitresses and adjunct professors and gig-writing copywriters without full-time salaries,” Literary Arts’ executive director, Andrew Proctor, said Wednesday. “And generally, people have lost their jobs. The economics of writing and the financial risks are enormous, and most of them don’t have a safety net.”
He added, “We tend to romanticize artistic poverty, but it’s just poverty.”
Literary Arts, whose mission focuses on readers and writers, already administers the Brian Booth Writers Fund, named for the creator of the nonprofit’s Oregon Book Awards and Oregon Literary Fellowships. The fund is set up as an endowment that provides revenue for the awards and fellowships. The new Booth Emergency Fund for Writers will consist of about 10 percent of the endowment fund’s principal, Proctor said.
“No one imagined this crisis being how the money would be used but … it’s not off-mission at all,” Proctor said.
Applicants for the awards must meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Oregon Book Award winner or finalist
- Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient
- Author of at least one title published since 2010 by an established publisher
- Author of a full-length play produced in mid-size or large theaters and/or published by established dramatic presses
- Essayist, critic, short story writer, cartoonist or poet with at least eight published pieces in the last three years in periodicals with a national or broad circulation
- Spoken word poet, or writer in another genre, who has earned income from performing, reading or touring and has performed in at least 12 venues since January 2019
- Writer with some other type of established practice (excluding copywriting, blogging, public relations, and writing for non-periodical websites and corporate clients)
Literary Arts will prioritize funding for writers identifying as black, indigenous, and/or people of color because COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color.
Proctor said Literary Arts settled on $1,000 as the award amount after conversations with writers about “what would be a meaningful amount of money for a writer.”
Meanwhile, Literary Arts continues its other work.
Its educational programs, which include Writers-in-the-Schools residencies, a college essay mentoring program, and the Verselandia poetry competition for high schoolers, have all pivoted to digital, Proctor said. Verselandia “is not going to occur as a competition this year – it’s too stressful and we can’t gather an audience anyway.” Instead, “we’re going to be doing a digital, multimedia anthology of student work,” he said.
Literary Arts’ public programming includes the Portland Arts & Lectures series, which brings noted authors to town. When Oregon’s stay-home order was issued, the 2019-20 series had one event left, an appearance by Colson Whitehead, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Underground Railroad.”
“We elected to move it to next spring and honor all the tickets,” Proctor said.
Literary Arts also rescheduled its annual Oregon Book Awards ceremony, from the original April 27 date to June 22. Proctor said an announcement would be coming soon about the ceremony, which also recognizes recipients of Oregon Literary Fellowships.
“We normally would have by now announced the new cycle for submitting for (book) awards and the new fellowships” for 2021, he said. “We just have been completely blown off course. They are 100% going to happen next year.”
The nonprofit also puts on the annual Portland Book Festival, which draws 10,000 readers to downtown Portland each November to attend panels, storytimes and other events featuring dozens of authors.
“Right now we’re planning for it,” Proctor said. “Of course it’s possible that the festival cannot gather together people, in which case we would do something virtually.”
As for Literary Arts itself, “we’re at full strength, staff-wise, but we are definitely experiencing losses,” Proctor said. “We’ve fundraised as hard as we’ve ever fundraised before, which is definitely challenging.”
Proctor has taken a 25% pay cut. “We have, not yet, had to cut any other salaries,” he said.
Literary Arts is committed to staying open to support readers and writers, Proctor said.
“We need our artists in this moment, I think, to write about it, to help us process it,” Proctor said. “We need there to be witnesses to it.”