The new fellowships celebrate disability culture by honoring accomplished practitioners in a wide variety of fields, including writing, theater, dance, architecture, painting, and garment making. Developed by the Ford Foundation in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the initiative is administered by United States Artists, a national arts funding organization in Chicago.
The awards are part of ongoing research conducted by, for, and with disabled practitioners to understand what they want and need from such fellowships, from accessible applications to flexible funds disbursal, because for many disabled artists a monetary award can too easily turn into a punishment. “I will die without my benefits; I get my health insurance through Medicare,” says fellow Riva Lehrer, a painter and the author of Golem Girl (One World, 2020). Full-time employment that offers health benefits can be difficult to maintain for many disabled people for whom hospital stays are more frequent, and eligibility for federal health care benefits is often affected by fluctuations in income. “People need to understand that if getting an award means that you lose your basic benefits and especially your health care, then you’re in much worse shape than otherwise,” says Lehrer.
“That’s something that we had to learn,” says Margaret Morton, director of the Creativity and Free Expression team of the Ford Foundation. “In that research and that work with disabled practitioners, we were able to gain a sense from their perspective of how they wanted to engage.” Individualized attention to the needs of each fellow is key, especially in terms of funds disbursal—some recipients opted to take their award over the course of several years to avoid jeopardizing life-supporting federal funds. The structure of the award is still being revised, and Morton believes it will continue on a two-year basis rather than an annual one.
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Saddle Up and Read
A young reader finds an attentive audience during a July 2020 farm visit.
SOME THOUGHTS ON ORDER—IN POETRY, IN LIFE
A Decade of Women Who Submit
For the past decade an international community of women and nonbinary writers have been working to claim space for themselves in an industry historically dominated by men. Known as Women Who Submit (WWS), the group supports and empowers its members to submit their work in spite of publishing’s inequities. Their achievements have been extraordinary: This July, the organization celebrates its tenth year, with twenty-seven chapters across the United States and Mexico, more than one hundred fifty successful book and magazine publication credits by its members in 2020, and a devoted community of writers, editors, and publishers.
Ehrlich Speaks to Mother-Writers
Lara Ehrlich, author of the short story collection Animal Wife (Red Hen Press, 2020), has a deep narrative investment in the ways the world denies women power and agency. In October 2020 that commitment took a new shape with the first episode of her podcast, Writer Mother Monster, a much-needed balm for those of us balancing mothering and writing in the midst of a global pandemic. Aimed at dismantling the myth that women can “have it all,” her podcast is a series of interviews with mother-writers working in all genres, at varied points in their careers, who candidly discuss the joys and complications of that dual identity. Ehrlich, herself a mother-writer—her daughter turns five this year—spoke about what she has gleaned from these exchanges and how they’ve influenced her own approach.
What We Ought to Do: THE SONG OF IMBOLO MBUE
In her second novel, How Beautiful We Were, Imbolo Mbue uses the chorus of voices in a small African village fighting for justice in the shadow of an American oil company to sing in celebration of community, connection, and enduring hope.
Pandemic Pen Pals
Nupur Chaudhury, a public health strategist living in New York City, grew up in the nineties sending letters through the mail. She received weekly aerograms from relatives in India; she corresponded with a pen pal in Texas; her father even took her to admire the post office’s new stamps every month. But as she grew older, Chaudhury says, “E-mail became more popular, and I really put that writing part of me to the side”—that is, until she came across the pen pal exchange Penpalooza on Twitter in August 2020.
Neither muscle nor mouth
Neither muscle nor mouth / devoted to one way of speaking. Every language // I borrow from somewhere else,” writes Threa Almontaser in The Wild Fox of Yemen (Graywolf Press, April 2021), winner of the Walt Whitman Award. In her debut Almontaser summons the language of her ancestors and family members, poets both contemporary and historical, experimental rock bands and rappers, and many more, to fashion an idiom that is both rebellious and reverent. Dedicated to the people of Yemen, the book offers a portrait of a country and its history and future. “Yemen has such an ancient and rich history, but with its current collapse, search engines show only the sad photos of starving kids,” says Almontaser. “I wanted to portray not only the war, but the beauty of Arabia Felix, of what it could still return to being.”
Writers Confront Climate Crisis
Author and activist Toni Cade Bambara has said the role of the artist is “to make revolution irresistible.” So when Jenny Offill, author of the novels Dept. of Speculation (Knopf, 2014) and Weather (Knopf, 2020), heard about the work of Writers Rebel—the writers’ arm of Extinction Rebellion, an international activist group that works against climate change—she felt compelled to get involved.
Revising the Dream
Publishing a debut novel in an uncertain world
Pandemic Writing Group
Finding Creativity, Community, and Play