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
Pedro Hoffmeister is the author of five books including the recent novels This Is The Part Where You Laugh and Too Shattered For Mending.
Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
I do a lot of reading and listening, focusing on lyricism. Deep down I’m a wannabe poet, inspired by the poetry of Dorianne Laux, Alejandra Pizarnik, Michael McGriff, Earl Sweatshirt, Pablo Neruda, Madvillain, and Jay-Z. Honestly, Cardi B has fun wordplay too. But story writers inspire me as well: Jessamyn Ward, Patrick deWitt, Augusto Monterroso, Cormac McCarthy, Alice Munro, Denis Johnson, Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Willy Vlautin, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Gabriel García Márquez.
I try to read regularly in Spanish and English to keep my brain fresh in its linguistic switches. Sometimes read in French if I’m feeling it. Think about rhythms, dialects, idioms, localisms…language as dynamic and flexible, then I remind myself of that when I write. The best writers make each character unique, even to the words they subconsciously choose to use, the way they craft phrases when they think and when they speak. I try to listen well.
How would you describe your creative process?
Thinking is a big part of the process. I like to spend a lot of time outside, just thinking.As far as actual writing goes, I get up early, start the coffee, stare out the front window at the stars or the early morning daylight—watch birds or squirrels if they’re there—let my brain wake up for five or ten minutes, then write for an hour or two (rarely three).I also try not to be too fixed on a process. I don’t want to make excuses, and I want to write every single day. So when I get up late or have an appointment early in the morning, I try to take a 15-minute nap in the afternoon to restart my brain, then write after, when my brain is fresh again. Or if I get busy and I’m not home all day, I’ll write a poem on a scrap of paper. Any kind of writing. Always writing.
But after my accident—a traumatic brain injury from getting hit by an SUV while biking to work—my process is altered. I’ve struggled with headaches, aphasia, memory, and seizures, and I often can’t think of the right word in English or Spanish.After my TBI, I had to relearn how to spell. I didn’t teach for a long time and I couldn’t write either. I tried, but nothing worked. I wrote a huge failed novel that will never be published (and never should be published).I did cognitive therapy, neurovision therapy, and neuropsychology, and still I struggled. Then through DHS and the American Disabilities Act, I got my teaching job back and I started to write a little better. Being back around people helped. I love people. But I still didn’t publish for a long time and I had to switch agents, had to start my career over. And that’s where I am now, back at the beginning of everything.
So to keep it simple: I try to read every day and write every day.
What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
While I’m very grateful for the financial support, it’s probably less important than the validation. I go through my life feeling like a fraud. Am I a writer? I don’t talk about it often. I’ve published books and essays and poems, yet I still feel like an imposter and rarely tell people that I’m a writer. One of my newer friends said to me, “When I heard you were a writer, I thought you were just one of those guys who smokes weed and writes bad poetry in the park. But I looked you up and you’ve published FIVE books. You have books with Penguin and Random House! Why don’t you talk about it?”But I don’t. It’s hard to have confidence. It’s difficult to feel like an author. “Author” feels like a big mantle. Authors are people like Toni Morrison or Cormac McCarthy. They stun you. You read a section of their work, then stare off for a while and wonder at your own devastation. And my writing isn’t like that.
So—to answer the question—when you win a literary award, you feel a little bit more real?
What are you currently working on?
I just wrote and starred in a short film that’s a metaphor for our COVID experience, and we released the film through Outside Magazine since it’s a rock climbing film.
As far as fiction goes, this book—the book that earned the fellowship— is what I’m working on, and it was in rough, rough shape when I applied. I sent my current draft, and I was surprised when it won. I feel very lucky that way. To be honest, I was thinking, “Well, this is total trash, complete garbage, but it represents my writing right now, so I guess I’ll go for it?” I hadn’t even shown the book to my agent yet. No one had read a single page until the judges saw it as my sample.
This is funny, but every answer here seems to come back to doubt, to self-doubt, so maybe that says something about the experience of being a writer or artist. I never believe that my writing is very good. I never went to grad school for writing. I don’t have an MFA in fiction. I don’t have connections or a writers group. So I create art in isolation, and what we do in isolation isn’t visible to others. Then that makes me ask: Is it real? Is it valid? I doubt myself every single day. And after my accident it’s only gotten worse. I have zero faith in my writing ability.
What advice do you have for future applicants?
Three parts: First—and this is obvious—you can’t win if you don’t apply.
Second, and more specifically to fiction, a poet friend of mine named Chin once gave me this advice about writing stories: “Don’t worry if it’s true or not, just tell a FUCKING good story.” So to create quality fiction, I’d say you should steal true details and true characters and true anecdotes—mix in little moments of what you see and hear in real life—but only if those true moments make the book better, only if they make it a more entertaining story. Literary devices and style matter. Technical excellence certainly matters. But don’t lose your story. As a literary writer, I sometimes forget that plot is essential. So I try to remind myself that stories, whether they’re told over a campfire or in book-form, need to entertain and engage the audience.Third, trust the process: Be okay with crafting terrible drafts, but then revise, revise, revise.
Excerpt from The Infinite Universe
And right now, this is how it is:
I’m sitting on the toilet with silver shards in the air, tinsel falling from the single bulb above my head. I catch the colors of the bathroom as they drift like Christmas tree decorations in a gust of wind, floating, passing over me.
There are so many ways to be wrong.
I look under the sink for ghosts.
Lean forward, rest my face in my hands, wonder how long I’ve been here. I can’t tell Leo about this because he’s too intense about everything—even how he worries about me. He’ll be an asshole most of the day, but if he sees something wrong he’ll want to make sure I’m okay. He’ll say, “Fuck, Orion, you’ve gotta do better than this. You gotta take care of yourself, you know? Did you drink water today? Did you eat enough salt?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I’ll say, “I’ve been doing all of those things,” even though the truth is that I often forget.
So I don’t tell him about my memory problems, or attention issues, or cognitive therapy tests that give me headaches for days. I don’t tell him when I forget to take my Butalbital.
Also, this is something that people don’t understand about seizure disorders: You don’t always fall on the ground and shake. Don’t always bite your tongue. I’ve had those kinds—grand mals—but most of the time that’s not what happens. More often it goes like this: My brain is on a time out, like the front of the world has disappeared, like whatever we think of as reality isn’t there. Basically, everyone is watching a movie together but I’m looking at a different screen, hearing a different soundtrack, something calm until I wake up. Maybe I’m in a warm bath with eucalyptus salts, the steam rising above the surface, only my knees and toes out of the water. I feel amazing.
But there’s no bath and nobody’s watching a movie.
When I open my eyes, everyone around me is screaming.
“The narrator in Hoffmeister’s novel in progress is quietly compelling, even as he lists out his many flaws and issues in the opening paragraphs. Orion works a seemingly dead-end job at his friend Leo’s storage center, where they navigate through the disturbing sadness that people hide away in their unpaid units. The characters are intelligent and thoughtful, but have been bruised by the failures and hardships of their past. The conversation between Orion and his weary mother is especially searing. Orion’s observations feel dissatisfied and full of yearning, and while he may believe he is just as stuck in his situation as his family and friends, seems poised to venture past his perceived limitations. ”