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Meet Kieran Mundy, 2024 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2024 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 500+ applications we received, and selected eight 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 2024 Fellowship recipients will be recognized at the 2024 Oregon Book Awards ceremony on April 8. 

Kieran Mundy (she/her) is a 2024 Oregon Literary Fellow in Fiction and a recipient of the Laurell Swails and Donald Monroe Memorial Fellowship. She is currently at work on a thematically linked short story collection that explores the intersections of chronic illness, wellness culture, climate change, and food. Her short fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter, Passages North, Gulf CoastJoyland, and elsewhere, and has been recognized in Wigleaf’s ‘Top 50 Very Short Fictions’ of 2017 and 2019. She’s the recipient of Gulf Coast’s 2020 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose, judged by Jenny Offill, and a 2022 Best of the Net nominee. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Oregon and has received support for her work from Tin House, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Craigardan.

Q & A WITH LITERARY ARTS

What is the most exciting thing about receiving an Oregon Literary Fellowship?

It just means everything to me. Practically speaking, it’s a significant financial cushion that allows for more flexibility during what feels like a crucial creative moment. It’s been an offering of permission: worry less about money right now and re-center writing for the next little while. But it’s also the sensation of being seen, really, in what can otherwise be isolating and lonely work. I think so many of us write as a way to eventually facilitate connection, despite the loneliness of it. This Fellowship feels like a realization of these efforts to be in conversation with or a part of something outside of my day-to-day practice, in a way that’s really special. 

How would you describe your creative process? 

I’d describe it as a hard-to-pin down combination of discipline and spontaneity. It’s a lot of brute-forcing my way through stories until I arrive at the rare moment of organic fluidity, in which the language takes over and all I have to do is follow its lead. That then gives me enough momentum to brute-force my way to the next moment of ease. 

What keeps you motivated and inspired as a writer?

Oh, you know, just the compulsive and vaguely narcissistic need to say something beautiful and true, I guess! A joke, but also not at all a joke—much like all my favorite works of fiction! More seriously: the absurdity of this moment, the foolish and also very tender notion that we’re in control of ourselves, the futility of language. I’m not sure I’d describe it as motivation as much as the process of watching the world happen and knowing I’m certainly not the only person experiencing it the way I am, and using writing as a way to be like, “We’re all seeing this, right?!” So, again, connection. I think my motivation as a writer is the same as my motivation as a nervous system: to be made safe by connection.

What are you working on right now?

I’m finishing up final revisions on a linked collection, Carnivores, while slowly chipping away at a longer project (a novel? I’m afraid to call it a novel!) about internalized ableism, grief, gender, chronic illness, and the history of men who find themselves by losing themselves in the woods. Also, in between, I’m letting myself dabble in some brand new stories that feel distinctly separate from the themed material in Carnivores.

Do you have any advice for future applicants? 

Persistence. It’s such a cliché, but this was my fourth time applying. I almost didn’t, because rejection can feel so defeating and sometimes there are moments when you do need to insulate yourself from that. So, persistence, and then making sure you’re at a place with yourself and your work where not getting the acceptance or the award doesn’t slow you down. 

EXCERPT FROM ‘THE GETAWAY’

We’d been building a house together, Caroline and I. It was Spring Break, one of those Habitat for Humanity projects. One evening, Caroline found me in the kitchen of the community center we were camping in, chugging saltwater mixed with Smooth Move tea in an attempt to expel a host of poisons gleaned from the angel food cake I’d eaten during dessert. The flash detox made my gut roil and cramp. I started to sweat, then cry. Caroline approached me, cautiously removing the glass from my grip as I sputtered about triglycerides.

“It’s okay,” Caroline whispered, bringing a palm to my abdomen. “Leave it. Leave it be.”

We grew close, started sneaking out at night to the project site where we’d sip White Claws and smoke weed. Caroline would swing around on the rafters until it looked like her limbs were extensions of the beams themselves and lecture me on The Wellness Industrial Complex and Internalized Misogyny and The Beauty Myth, announcing, “The toxin is the toxin, you know?”

It became clear to me that Caroline existed in the kind of real freedom that can be obtained simply by making no mistakes. Each night the house grew around us—insulation, flooring, a roof—and there I was, held within it. So what if my mother’s veins were diluted with so much vitalizing fluid that her DNA was unrecognizable? Caroline’s heart pumped mightily throughout those walls, a supply of blood so saturated with self-love it could sustain us both. I was being born anew, shaped by a structure that would show me the superlative way to be a woman. I vowed to surrender. I would not do anything to jeopardize my newfound happiness. I would be liberated. I would do it perfectly.

JUDGE’S COMMENTS

“I loved this intelligent, confidently written story. It defies categorization. Is it climate fiction? Dystopian fiction? It’s definitely about wellness culture and women’s bodies—evergreen topics that feel freshly harvested in Mundy’s capable hands. A story to read and reread!”  

– Alexia Arthurs

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