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Meet Rosanna Nafziger, 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. 

Rosanna Nafziger (she/they) is a 2024 Oregon Literary Fellow in Nonfiction and the recipient of the Walt Morey Fellowship. She is a queer writer from a Mennonite community in West Virginia. She holds an MFA in fiction from Portland State University and teaches creative writing in Portland, where she lives with her partner and children. Her short stories and essays have appeared in ShenandoahRiver TeethWest BranchGay MagFourth GenreOregon Humanities, and elsewhere.

Q & A WITH LITERARY ARTS

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

After the initial rush from opening that email (which left me physically shaking), receiving the OLF left me with a quieter sort of excitement, too. The essays in my application felt a little scary—I had let only one or two trusted readers see some of them because they felt so risky to me. I wondered if I had maybe ventured too far off the trail, and so it was really validating to know that the judges saw what I was doing, and connected with it.

How would you describe your creative process?

My writing practice has three parts. There’s the most visible part, where (ideally) I drop my kids off at school and stake out a corner of the coffeeshop and drink tea and get my words in a useable form. If I do this regularly, then the second part of my writing practice just flows naturally from that focused effort: throughout my day, ideas surface and I dictate them to my notes app, while I’m running errands or making supper or not sleeping. If I don’t have the time for the focused coffeeshop sessions, these unfocused daydreamy ideas become very sparse and I run out of juice—a lesson I keep relearning.

The third part of my writing practice is taking my work to my writing group and listening to their experiences of it. We’ve been working together for eight years, now (although sometimes “working” means “playing Dungeons and Dragons”), and they know me well enough to help me make sense of what I am trying to do.

Altogether, it’s a very slow, iterative process. I gain forward momentum and a sense of direction from revising and clarifying what’s already on the page, rather than boldly drafting my way forward into new territory.

What keeps you motivated and inspired as a writer?

It’s such a gift to witness people making art that changes the rules. I don’t mean in an edgelord-y sort of way, but rather that the art takes time to teach you how to read it, yet still leaves you feeling like a breathless off-balance newbie. That’s the most generative headspace for me. This week, for example, I was wickedly delighted with the inadequacy of objectivity and likability in the movie Anatomy of a Fall.

What are you working on right now?

My application drew from a collection of essays tracing the evolution of my queerness throughout my childhood in a poverty-line Mennonite family. But I’m also working on a novel about Armageddon and witchcraft and queer ghosts in a subarctic village because I can’t sit still in one genre.

Do you have any advice for future applicants? 

The main thing is to keep applying—this was my eighth attempt!

EXCERPT FROM HELLBENDER

I was scooping up vintage Pyrex at an estate sale last winter when I spotted a large hex sign in the corner of the basement. I’d never given hex signs much thought—just assumed they were beautiful manifestations of Pennsylvania Dutch superstition—but from far away on the West Coast they suddenly looked like home. I thought of the masses of Instagram witches borrowing and appropriating other cultures’ magic, and I wondered about my own culture’s magic. Where were all the Pennsylvania Dutch witches?

I started Googling right there at the estate sale, walked home in a daze.

Braucherei is a Pennsylvania Dutch folk magic of ritual gestures and incantations leavened with scripture and prayer. It exists between the kitchen and the numinous, comfortable familiar objects repurposed into recipes for warding and finding and healing. Potatoes under the waning moon for warts, brooms nailed beneath the floorboards, sacred initials in the door jamb. Finally, a spiritual inheritance that was more than fear and shame and false prophecies.

Breathless, like reading a novel in sixth grade.

The most famous grimoire of Braucherei ritual is The Long-Lost Friend, written in 1820. Hungry for magic in my bloodlines, I felt a creeping sense of familiarity as I read. Papa’s cure for back pain could fit easily on its pages.

Twist your shoulders like so while calling out “in the name of Jesus” three times over.

And yet Papa abhorred magic, precisely because he believed in it, believed that Satan worked real power through such spells. But suppose Papa had come to this syncretic spell from real Braucherei? Suppose a strain of crypto-Braucherei survived in my family, hidden under a heavy cover of faith healing? And then: if Papa had turned to folk ritual, not divine prophecy, would I have been so ashamed? If he’d gone dowsing for my teacher’s cousin, or put a broken stem between the lath and the siding of her house to know whether she lived or died, or bent a juniper bush under a stone to make her captor return her?

Not ashamed, no. I would have delighted. Yes, that’s me, I might have said, I am the Braucher’s daughter.

(While prophet’s daughter catches in my throat.)

And yet, could I have come any closer to belief? A moment of suspense, while I dreamed myself a Braucherin encircling my beloveds with protective peppercorns, and then I would have alighted again on this senseless brutal plane, this snowy ditch, warding off men instead of demons. I know my spells only linger for the length of a held breath.

JUDGE’S COMMENTS

“Rosanna Nafziger investigates the intersections of queerness and evangelicalism with the precision of a straight razor and the agility of a dancer. With insight and humor, Nafziger traverses seemingly incompatible worlds, drawing threads of connection with deft proficiency. This is not precious work. It is rigorous and essential. And yet, Nafziger’s prose is as magical as the mythos it deconstructs. Perhaps most impressive is the propulsive energy, even while the intellect startles us into recognition. A masterful accomplishment.”

– Jessica Hendry Nelson

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