Writers

Meet Rachael Carnes, 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
Rachael Carnes (she/her/hers)

Category
Drama

Bio
Rachael Carnes had more than 50 productions and publications in 2019. She’s recently developed work at the Inge Theatre Festival, the Kennedy Center, the Midwestern Dramatists Center, Mid-American Theater, A.T.H.E and the Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, the Ivoryton Playhouse, the Parson’s Nose Theatre, and the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival. Rachael is the founder of CodeRedPlaywrights, a consortium of writers across the country responding to gun violence.

Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
I’ve always been drawn to creativity, and the people and places that nurture it. Some of my earliest experiences were in museums, my mom was the director of the education at the Field Museum in Chicago, when I was small, and tagging along with her to work, opened up a world of possibilities, really young. I got the sense of possibilities, of collaboration, of this continuum we’re all on. I grew up dancing, and was a geeky theatre kid in High School. In college, I dug into Dance and Theatre, from history, theory, and tangible perspectives. I spent a couple decades teaching dance to kids with disabilities, and founded a nonprofit dedicated to that. I’d always had a side-hustle as a freelance writer, and found myself continually covering the artist/scientist/maker beat. I was interested in learning how they focused their practice, how they integrated what they knew, with where they had to go. When I look back on those many interviews and features, I realize that I was trying to work up the courage, to become an artist myself. I’m continually inspired by those people willing to take that risk, and I am still happiest in museums, surrounded by art and culture, or in the theatre, or listening to music, or just walking around in a new place. I find just the act of living, to be inspiring.

How would you describe your creative process?
As a writer, I’ve developed practical habits, that work for me, within the complexities of my life, as a busy parent with a full-time day job. I write, every day. Something, anything. If I’m working on a full-length piece, I’ll build that. Maybe I’m writing a shorter piece, or refining an existing work. Whatever the project, no excuses, I write. I also read every day. A play, a poem, fiction, nonfiction. I often read on my lunch hour. It’s been essential, to build a web of creative community through this simple engagement. If I could retire tomorrow, I’d read all day long. In terms of my process, it’s evolving, as I improve my skills, as I get closer to knowing what I want to say, to having a sense of how to say it. Theatre, playwriting, is a collaborative art form. It’s both literary, and imminently practical and grounded. Is this piece I’ve written, something that can be produced? If yes, why? If not, what’s missing? The dialogue in play-making, among stakeholders, the creative team, the director, actors, dramaturgs, designers, or before that, my playwriting colleagues who are willing to read and respond to a draft, or an early audience who bring so much to the piece, through their reactions, laughter, tears – or their confusion and silence — inform the process immeasurably. I hope to continue to develop my creative process until I can’t write plays anymore.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship? 
At nearly 50 years old, I am humbled and amazed to receive this recognition. I am a voracious reader, and I’ve been a journalist for years, but I never wrote a play, until just a few years ago. In the fall of 2016, I decided to take a “How to Write a 10-Minute Play” workshop at my local theater, and I just caught the bug. I found that this medium allowed me to explore my two loves: Dance, which plays with time, energy, relationships, and writing, that calls upon me to learn about new subjects, in order to communicate. In playwriting, I can research, relate to history, and bring it into the current moment. I try to make whatever idea I’m working on feel present. That’s the dancer in me, perfecting these moments, the minutia of the words on the page, and leaving these etchings in the script or the stage, for the audience to interpret. This fellowship bowls me over. It’s incredibly validating, and spurs me to keep working.

What are you currently working on? 
Oh, so many spinning plates! I have a full-length sci-fi comedy called BINDERS that’s heading to the Hollywood Fringe in June. It’s been helped along the way with smaller productions and staged readings at conferences, and now my co-producers and I are just going for it. I’m working on a new commission, and of course, thanks to this Fellowship, I’m in conversation with the PARTNER OF— teams. I’m developing a piece about Oregon History, called YONCALLA, about a moment in 1920, when a group of women got themselves elected to the city council of that little community south of Eugene. Their election made international news — creating a panic — and as I began researching, what came into the foreground, was actually the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon YONCALLA is a semi-finalist for the 2020 Playmakers Repertory International Thomas Wolfe Prize, and I hope to find a creative home for it in this state. Another full-length, WINDBERRY CREEK, has had a couple of staged readings, and I’m hoping for more. This dramedy for three generations, I hope fills a gap in dysfunctional dramas featuring women. Another full-length play, PRACTICE HOUSE has been made a semi-finalist for some plum awards, and I continue to develop it, heading soon at the Mid-American Theatre Conference – in Chicago! I’ll have to go visit the Field Museum.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
My advice is to believe that you have something to say, and to say it. People comment to me, all the time, that I came into playwriting late. I don’t have an MFA. I’ve not done any formal schooling, in this work. But I have taken advantage of every learning opportunity I could. I am eternally grateful for the people and places that invest in me, and my writing.

Excerpt from Waterfall
FRIEND
There was an osprey circling way up high on the last day of school.

We watched it from the bike path —
Remember?
Watched it over the river —
You said we’d be late but I wanted to stop.
They almost look like they’re working together — Just hanging in the air, then zoom! Bang —

Up with a fish!
God, I’d love to be able to fish like that. Wouldn’t you?
We were happy. I mean —
We did it! We got through Freshman year!
We were gonna go celebrate — I had money in my pocket. We were gonna go get milkshakes. I hate talking to you in this —
What’s it called?
You’re the one who’s good at English, not me.
Past tense. The past tense —
You in English class, hand raised — all the right answers.
You had all the right answers.
Running, kicking the ball —
Stop! I want to watch the ospreys. Look at them!
Now you’re just some dumb kid who —
I’m sorry. You’re not —
It’s cold here. The trees and moss and —
Why’d did you have to be there right then, huh?
Now I’m here and you’re —
Where?
Those boulders up above me?
The water down below?
Are you the osprey circling?
God — See what you did?
Now I sound like I’m in English class again!
I feel you when I’m here, though —
It’s like —
It’s like church.
Like the trees are this cathedral and —
When I’m here I don’t miss you so much.
The water on my faces washes away the —
Your mom’s okay. She came to graduation.
They had your name in the program.
I walked for you. They gave your mom your diploma.
I miss you.
Do you miss me?

Lights out. End of play.

Judge’s Comments
“As a submission for the Oregon Literary Fellowship for Drama competition, Rachael Carnes’ historically rooted workPartner Of– sticks with you. That is what this piece does. It sticks with you, searing in your memory a timeless retelling of unwavering hope, unconventional strength and sheer perseverance. Sharp, fast moving dialogue allows this three woman cast of African-American performers to deftly navigate the constraints of time from 1787 to 2018.Partner Of– with its delicate yet powerful snapshot of a young lady’s heart, takes the reader on an emotional journey inserting them directly into the complex space that is Underneath Monticello, in the Mansion’s South Wing / In a cold, windowless room, laid with plaster and brick. With the detailed research of a journalist and the artistic flair of a playwright, Rachael Carnes offers up a visceral experience curated in archaeological scholarship. Drawing from intimate dealings with the Hemings’ and Jefferson’s descendants, the story of Sally Heming comes to life in a time that her voice is needed. It is a story that cuts the fog of ambivalence and catapults us into a world, into a time and into a place that needs to see the light of day.”–Stephanie Bubanis


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