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Meet Sandy Tanaka, 2021 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2021 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.  Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each. The 2022 OLF applications can be found here, and the deadline to apply will be in September 17 2021.

2021 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Sandy Tanaka

Pronouns: she/her

Oregon Literary Career Fellowship- Fiction

Sandy Tanaka writes fiction, poetry, and memoir. She has a B.A. in film from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College. She is also an art director and designer. 

Q&A with Literary Arts

What are your sources of inspiration?
Inspiration is a hard word. For me, it implies an ease to the creative process, a luxury of waiting around for inspiration to hit, while in reality you are dealing with a pandemic, racism, and everyday personal stress.

A better way, for me to describe the need to write, is being rooted in the constant effort to try be present, and aware of the details that I absorb in constant fight or flight. When I saw the video of Xiao Zhen Xie, 75, who punched her white attacker, I saw a look on her face about 3/4s into the feed that just cracked something inside of me. It was scary, it makes me want live every moment, examine all my prejudices and fears, and really, just write.

How would you describe your creative process?
Always percolating. With just the amount of sleep, dark green vegetables, and a lower amount of stress, creative pathways seem to magically open up. I swear I can fortune- tell your future when seven hour of sleep is nabbed.I find being forced to deal with the present, and the looming expectation of deadlines will make me write..

I can’t wait for lightbulbs to appear above my head.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
A very public reminder that writing matters. A chance (a scary, responsibility-laden chance) to show what I can do. A self-respectful deadline.

What are you currently working on?
Playing around with scrollytelling. Attacking things on my bucket lists–writing a piece on the ornery craft of songwriting.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
Hope is like a string of lights that you know will be beautiful on your wall but might not reach the outlet, It doesn’t matter if it ever illuminates. Just try to plug it in.

Excerpt from “In Defense of SPAM”

“How can you eat SPAM? It’s gross.”

Well yes, fat and salt content off the chart. Not the choicest of animal parts. It’s an acronym for Scientifically Processed Animal Matter. Lasts for years in a can. A serving size of spam has 16 grams of fat and 580 mg of salt. But only one carb. Paleo nightmare? Vegan nightmare?

I like SPAM. To see it sliding from pan to plate, browned and caramelized, as if it was everyone’s everyday kind of meat, gives me the anticipated SALT RUSH. I see my Dad in every house we lived making SPAM musubi in the kitchen. It was his thing to make. SPAM sliced and fried and placed atop rice shaped by hand like a football. For every Superbowl, for my kid’s birthday parties, to take to Ala Moana beach, stacked high in concentric circles on a plate wrapped in an ocean’s worth of plastic wrap. We always sat on the lawn, up from the beach, on an itchy wool blanket next to the concrete bathrooms. I could watch the cute surfers spray their feet at the faucets. I would eat at least seven of them, and mac salad with a tiny plastic fork that Mom would pluck out of my hands to wash later. All downed with a guava soda.

Judge’s Comments

“Tanaka’s writing lured me in with a provocative hook, and held my attention with intriguing details and careful revelations. Every choice the author makes in this story about the tragic consequences of Hiroshima is masterfully considered. From the stressful countdown structure and the occasionally prickly asides from the narrator, to the subtle, lovely insights that reveal the characters’ past regrets and concerns, Tanaka celebrates and mourns the richness of humanity within an individual life. Despite the gravity of the subject, nothing here feels overwrought or melodramatic. The grief and catharsis the reader feels by its end is fully earned. ” – Aimee Phan

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