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
Sara Jean Accuardi
Sara Jean Accuardi is an award-winning playwright whose full-length plays include The Delays, BREAK, The Storyteller, and Portrait of the Widow Kinski. Her writing has been produced and developed around the country, including with Theatre Vertigo, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, Spooky Action Theater, Victory Gardens, Portland Center Stage, Chicago Dramatists, The Blank Theatre, and PlayMakers Rep. She is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild and LineStorm Playwrights.
Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
In 1997 my parents took me to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where I saw a play called The Magic Fire by Lillian Groag. I grew up in a family of theatre people, so it wasn’t the first play I saw by a longshot, but it hit me in a way no other play had before. After weeping through the curtain call, I went to the Tudor Guild Gift Shop and bought a copy of the script. I remember pouring through the spiral-bound pages and thinking about the fact that someone wrote those words I loved. That someone created the world of this play that had moved me so much. That what I saw on that stage began in Lillian Groag’s mind. I began to wonder what writing a play of my own would be like.
The writer John Connelly said, “Writers are magpies by nature, always collecting shiny things, storing them away and looking for connections.” I find inspiration everywhere. I see a lot of plays, I read a lot, and I spend an absurd amount of time daydreaming about the lives of strangers I see in the grocery store. I try to remember that a story can be hiding anywhere, and do my best to keep my eyes, ears, and mind open. Every play I write is a mosaic made of a million tiny things I picked up in a million random places.
How would you describe your creative process?
One of my mentors told me that that writing isn’t just writing. Writing is also the act of bumbling around and thinking about what you’re going to write. It’s playing through a conversation in your head as you do the dishes, it’s watching an old man at the bus stop and wondering where he’s going and where he’s been, and– yeah– sometimes it’s lying awake at night scrolling through Instagram while trying to tap into something you want to spend time and energy creating. I love that piece of advice because it makes me feel better about the fact that my writing process is probably 97% panic and procrastination and 3% writing. I wish I were more disciplined, but try as I may– I’m not.
When I finally sit down to write, though, I’ve spent so much time thinking and worrying that the writing comes easy. At that point, it’s just a matter of sitting back and– this sounds a little silly, I know– listening to the characters talk and transcribing what they say. I tend not to work from outlines. I like to let character and plot emerge organically, and follow the story to unexpected places. When I’ve finished a draft, I share it with a trusted reader– often a family member or a fellow playwright– and then I plunge into my favorite part of the process: revisions. I use rewrites to shape what I have and figure out how it all fits together. There’s something magical about finding the final piece that makes it all click into place.
For a playwright, the process isn’t complete until your play is in the hands of your collaborators. To me, the playwright’s job is to create a container that the actors, director, and designers can pour their talent and life experience into. That’s what brings it to life.
What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
Oh, so much! Obviously, I’m beyond grateful and thrilled about the fact that this fellowship gives me the financial flexibility to dedicate my time to writing and creating something new, but it wouldn’t be honest to say that’s what I’m most excited about. What’s been most exciting has simply been the ability to say I am a Literary Fellow. I was chatting with the fabulous playwright Rachael Carnes, recipient of the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship for Drama, and she said, “It’s like armor.” Being a writer can be tough. There’s a lot of rejection and a lot of vulnerability as you put these fragile little pieces of yourself out into the world hoping they connect with someone. While validation isn’t necessary, it sure is nice. The fact that this honor comes from my beloved home state makes it even sweeter.
What are you currently working on?
I always have a couple of projects in the works. I’m currently getting my play, BREAK, ready for a staged reading at the Valdez Theatre Conference. I’m also working on commissions for two fantastic local theatre companies, one for Theatre Vertigo and one for Shaking the Tree. The projects are extremely different in style and scope, which is pretty exciting. The piece for Theatre Vertigo is an audio play that will be ready for your AirPods in the Fall and the piece for Shaking the Tree is a devised project that will open in the Spring. After a year of theatres being shuttered, it feels really good to say that.
What advice do you have for future applicants?
Don’t talk yourself out of applying! The choice to award you the fellowship or not is up to the judges, not you, and your odds of getting it are a whole lot higher if you apply. It’s also important to understand that if you don’t get it, that’s not a reflection of your talent or the quality of your work. I’ve been on reading committees, and that experience opened my eyes to the fact that so much of the submission process is just hoping your piece falls into the hands of the right reader at the right time. Sometimes it will; sometimes it won’t. There’s no reason not to roll the dice and then roll them again and again.
I’ve been nice to you.
Like, really nice to you.
No. I know.
And you’ve– you’ve been sort of–
You’ve been cruel.
I don’t know.
No, really. Why?
Because I’m shit.
Then don’t be.
It’s not hard.
Thalia takes this in.
Andreas takes the keychain from his pocket.
My dad gave it to me.
I’m not close with him. Like, at all. He left before I even–
But this was from him.
That’s why I have it.
Not because I think it’s cool, or clever– I’m not stupid.
I just– it’s from my dad.
Hey, Honor Roll. A question.
If Columbia was off the table, and you were forced to choose something else, what would it be?
I don’t know. Maybe Duke?
Not college. Anything. If you had the chance to do one thing.
Andreas thinks about this.
Really thinks about this.
When I was eight my mom took me to Disneyland– we didn’t go on many vacations, so it was like this big deal–
Anyway. I really liked the guys on the jungle ride. The ones who drive the boats and tell jokes about the animals.
I guess I’d be one of those guys.
No. That’s good.
Tell me one of the jokes.
Can you? You don’t have to.
But I’ve never been to Disneyland.
I mean, you have to imagine we’re on a riverboat.
Okay. So, uh…
(he tries to be a skipper)
As we approach, please notice that there’s a dock on the left and a dock on the right. But don’t let it confuse you. It’s a paradox.
I mean– the jokes aren’t supposed to be–
No. I liked it.
You should do that.
“Sara Jean Accourdi’s award winning play, The Story Teller, lives up to its title by immediately giving you the feeling that you are indeed in the hands of a good story teller. In this magical remix of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, we find ourselves looking upon the beautifully dilapidated wreck of a modern day houseboat where a young girl lives with her father. They have been living off the grid since she can remember — but it is only now that she begins to ask questions. ”
– Richard Caliban