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Chairman's Message 3 

Editor's Note 5 

The Writer's Place by E.L. Doctorow 7 

State and Writer 8 

Afterword by Gigi Bradford 1 08 


VV 1x1 N Vj J\ 1VI Hj Ja 1 V_j J\ celebrates the achievements of National Endowment for the 

Arts Literature Fellowship recipients, a program that has existed nearly as long as 
the agency itself. We asked 50 writers — one representing each state — to contribute 
a piece for this anthology, which seeks to evoke a sense of place, a portrait in 
miniature of American life as we approach the beginning of the new millennium. 
We take as our motto Whitman's lines: "I hear America singing, the varied carols 
I hear." These writers are part of that American song, that American story. 

The writers — and the 2,200 other recipients of Creative Writing Fellowships — 
have made their mark on American letters and our culture this latter half of 
the 20th century. We are grateful for their contributions and are proud to have 
supported so many who tell the story — in poetry and prose — of the people 
and places of our Nation. They belong to us all, for we all participate in writing 
America through the stories of our lives. 

WRITING AMERICA is an official part of the National Endowment for 
the Arts' celebration of the Millennium through the arts. 

- Jane Alexander 

State and Writer 


Dennis Covington 



William Kittredge 



John Haines 



Ron Hansen 



Alberto Rios 



Teresa Jordan 



CD. Wright 


New Hampshire 

Maxine Kumin 



Maxine Hong Kingston 


New Jersey 

Robert Pinsky 



Linda Hogan 


New Mexico 

Joy Harjo 



J.D. McClatchy 


New York 

Paul Auster 



W.D. Snodgrass 


North Carolina 

Kaye Gibbons 



Joy Williams 


North Dakota 

Larry Watson 



Alice Walker 



Rita Dove 



Cathy Song 



Diane Glancy 


Idaho • 

Robert Wrigley 



Kim Stafford 



Li-Young Lee 



Annie Dillard 



Scott Russell Sanders 


Rhode Island 

Michael S. Harper 



Jane Smiley 


South Carolina 

Susan Ludvigson 



Albert Goldbarth 


South Dakota 

Dan O'Brien 



Bobbie Ann Mason 



Charles Wright , 



Ernest Gaines 



Sandra Cisneros 



Ira Sadoff 



Mark Strand 



Linda Pas tan 



Louise Gliick 



Linda Gregg 



Richard Bausch 



Philip Levine 



Colleen McElroy 



David Mura 


West Virginia 

Denise Giardina 



Richard Ford 



Jane Hamilton 



Mona Van Duyn 



Gretel Ehrlich 



Some of the writers in this anthology are peripatetic souls, moving from place to 
place in order to make a living or out of sheer wanderlust. Others have sprung up 
from the soil and have been rooted all their lives in their own hometowns. All of 
the writers, whether native sons or daughters or merely passing through, manage to 
evoke a sense of place through their words. This anthology is designed to showcase 
how their strong, clear voices describe American places. It is not a study in literary 
regionalism, but a montage of vignettes from each of the 50 states. 

In putting together this book, our task was fairly simple: find a writer and a work 
or excerpt which manage to evoke each state. The difficulty arose from a surplus of 
good writers, and many of the outstanding voices the Arts Endowment has assisted 
over the course of a generation could not be included due to lack of space. From 
the wealth of voices, we selected these 50, aiming in general for a mix of poetry and 
prose, guided only by our gut feelings: does this say Pennsylvania? Does this evoke 
a sense of Wyoming? We chose one voice for each state, one of many possibilities. 

We thank all 50 writers who contributed to WRITI NG AMERICA as well as 
E.L. Doctorow who provided the Foreword. We are grateful to their publishers, 
not only for granting us re-print permission, but more importantly, for their ongoing 
support of serious literary work. Gigi Bradford and Cliff Becker, who are responsible 
for Literature grants, were instrumental in all aspects of making this anthology. 

WRITING AMERICA also serves, we hope, as inspiration to emerging writers. 
We hope this book provides a glimpse of the tremendous vitality, diversity, and energy 
of contemporary American literature and that the works themselves will arrest your 
attention and send you rushing off to the bookstore or library for more good words. 

- Keith Donohue 
Publications Director 









poem, or a novel, is thought to be an expression of overriding individuality. In 
fact there is a ground song from which every writer takes voice, and our recognition 
of the genius of a writer -Mark Twain for instance - cannot exclude the people and 
the territory he comes from. 

It is the wise society that provides what discreet encouragement it can for these 
singers who rise unbidden from the land. Inevitably, as Thoreau did with Walden, 
writers and poets endow places with meaning, locate them in the moral universe, 
give them a charged name. 

This is essential business because uncharged with invisible meaning, the visible is 
nothing, mere clay. 

Our writers and poets find the meaning, or hidden life, in the observable life, they 
elicit from the visible what is invisible - who we are and where we are going and to 
what moral consequence. 

Nobody else can do this for us, not our movie stars, not our workaday politicians, 
nor our corporate CEOs nor media pundits. It is by nature a labor that must be 
independent of our material interests. It yields the dimensional reality that can only 
come of a multiplicity of witnesses. You will note that the TV commentator, with 
his vast audience, will allow himself only the narrowest range of thought, the most 
neutral diction. The writer with his small audience puts no limit on his thought and 
glories in his diction. The dared truth inseparable from its own precise articulation 
is what the writer and the poet will give you. It is a natural resource no less than our 
forests, rivers, farmlands and fisheries. 

- E.L. Doctorow 

Dennis Covington 

Dennis Covington is the author 
of Salvation on Sand Mountain, 
which was a finalist for the 
1995 National Book Award in 
Nonfiction. He is also the author 
of two novels, Lasso the Moon 
and Lizard, which won the 
Delacorte Press Prize for 
a First Young Adult Novel. 
Covington's articles and short 
stories have appeared in The 
New York Times, Los Angeles Times 
Magazine, The Georgia Review, 
Vogue, Redbook, Southern Exposure 
and other periodicals. His play 
adaptation of Lizard premiered at 
the Alabama Shakespeare Festival 
Theatre and was staged in Atlanta 
as part of the 1 996 Olympic Arts 
Festival. He has received the 
Rea Non-Fiction Prize from the 
Boston Book Review and the 
Barrie Stavis Playwright Award 
from the National Theatre 
Conference. A native of 
Birmingham, Alabama, Covington 
directs the creative writing 
program at the University of 
Alabama at Birmingham, where 
he lives with his wife, novelist 
Vicki Covington, and their two 

The NEA fellowship I 
received last year was clearly 
a blessing. It allowed me six 
months of concentrated 
writing time, a paradise of 
work. The circumstances, too, , 
seemed significant. The award 
came at the very moment 
when I felt I had tapped into 
the voice of my people, the 
nearly forgotten culture of 
poor Southern whites. So 
I am grateful not only as 
an individual writer, but as 
a member of a generation 
cut off from its roots. 

The award came at the very moment when I felt 
I had tapped into the voice of my people, the nearly 
forgotten culture of poor Southern whites. 



Salvation on Sand Mountain 

. . .Listen up. The peculiarity of Southern experience 
didn't end when the boll weevil ate up the cotton 
crop. We didn't cease to be a separate country when 
Burger King came to Meridian. We're as peculiar 
a people now as we ever were, and the fact that our 
culture is under assault has forced us to become 
even more peculiar than we were before. Snake 
handling, for instance, didn't originate back in the 
hills somewhere. It started when people came down 
from the hills to discover they were surrounded by 
a hostile and spiritually dead culture. All along 
their border with the modern world - in places like 
Newport, Tennessee, and Sand Mountain, Alabama 
- they recoiled. They threw up defenses. When 
their own resources failed, they called down the 
Holy Ghost. They put their hands through fire. 
They drank poison. They took up serpents. 

They still do. The South hasn't disappeared. 
If anything, it's become more Southern in a last-ditch 
effort to save itself. And the South that survives will 
last longer than the one that preceded it. It'll be 
harder and more durable than what came before. 
Why? It's been through the fire. And I'm not just 
talking about the civil rights movement, although 
certainly that's a place we could start. I'm talking 
about the long, slow-burning fire, the original civil 
war and the industrialization that it spawned. I'm 
talking about the migration to the cities, the cholera 
epidemics, the floods. I'm talking about the wars 
that Southerners fought disproportionately in this 
century, the poverty they endured. I'm talking about 
our fall from Grace. I'm talking about the scorn and 
ridicule the nation has heaped on poor Southern 
whites, the only ethnic group in America not 
permitted to have a history. I'm talking about the 
City. I don't mean Atlanta. I mean Birmingham. 

In the country, they put their evil spirits in 
colored glass bottles hung on trees. But let me tell 
you what we do with evil spirits in the City. We start 
with coal that a bunch of our male ancestors died 
getting out of the ground. We heat it in ovens till it 
gives offpoisonous gases and turns into coke, 
something harder and blacker than it was to begin 
with. Then we set that coke on fire. We use it to fuel 
our furnaces. These furnaces are immense things, 
bulb shaped and covered with rust. You wouldn't 
want one in your neighborhood. We fill the furnace 
with limestone and iron ore and any evil spirits we 
find lying around. The iron ore melts in the coke- 
driven fire. Impurities attach to the limestone and 
float to the top. What settles to the bottom is pure 
and incredibly hot. At a precise moment, we open 
a hole in the bottom of the furnace, and molten iron 
cascades out, a ribbon of red so bright you can 
hardly look at it. When I was a kid you could stand 
on the viaduct above the Sloss furnaces in down- 
town Birmingham and watch the river of molten iron 
racing along the ground, incandescent, inexorable, 
and so unpredictable that a spark from it flew up 
one night while my father's friend, Ross Keener, 
was leaning over the rail of the viaduct, flew up and 
put out his eye. 

That's the kind of South I'm talking about. 

- Dennis Covington 

John Haines 

John Haines has lived and worked 
in the Alaska wilderness much of 
his life. His many volumes of 
poetry include News from the 
Glacier: Selected Poems 1 960- 1 980, 
and his many prose works include 
the memoir The Stars, the Snow, 
the Fire published by Graywolf 
Press. Mr. Haines's honors include 
an award from the Governor of 
Alaska for lifetime contribution 
to the arts, a Western States Arts 
Federation Lifetime Achievement 
Award, and a Lenore Marshall/The 
Nation poetry prize. He received 
a Literature Fellowship in 1968. 

It has been many years 
since that fellowship. I was 
then still far in the sticks of 
Alaska, many miles from a 
city, and with no phone of my 
own, the nearest being some 
miles away. 

This grant came close on 
the heels of a Guggenheim. 
The two grants, following 
closely on each other, gave 
me the first real money I had 
seen in many years, and made 
life a good deal easier in the 
circumstances I was then 
living in. Certainly it can be 
said that the funding from my 
fellowship allowed me to buy 
new books, and to have some 
needed leisure in which to 
read those books and work 
at whatever I had on hand at 
the time. I can say also that 
having been given a fellowship 
at the time generated a 

certain interest elsewhere 
and eventually sent me out 
on my first reading tour 
through the lower 48. 

In other words, the two 
fellowships coming close 
together as they did, changed 
my life. I doubt that many 
people have had their lives 
changed as drastically as mine 
was at the time, but I don't 
doubt that many others have 
had some related experience 
and a period free from 
immediate money concerns. 

[The fellowship]. . . generated a certain interest elsewhere 
and eventually sent me out on my first reading tour through 
the lower 48. 




The Stars, The Snow, The Fire 

There are shadows over the land. They come out of the 
ground, from the dust and the tumbled bones of the earth. 
Tree shadows that haunt the woodlands of childhood, holding 
fear in their branches. Stone shadows on the desert, cloud 
shadows on the sea and over the summer hills, bringing water. 
Shapes of shadows in pools and wells, vague forms in the 

Out of the past come these wind-figures, the flapping 
sails of primitive birds with terrible beaks and claws. Shadows 
of things that walked once and went away. Lickers of blood 
that fasten by night to the veins of standing cattle, to the foot 
of a sleeping man. In the Far North, the heavy, stalled bodies 
of mastodons chilled in a black ooze, and their fur-clad bones 
still come out of the ground. Triceratops was feeding in the 
marshlands by the verge of the coal-making forest. 

Shadows in doorways, and under the eaves of ancient 
buildings, where the fallen creatures of stone grimace in sleep. 
Domestic, wind-tugged shadows cast by icy branches upon 
a bedroom window: they tap on the glass and wake us. They 
speak to the shadows within us, old ghosts that will not die. 
Like trapped, primordial birds, they break from an ice pool 
in the heart's well and fly into walls built long ago. 

Stand still where you are - at the end of pavement, in 
a sunbreak of the forest, on the open, cloud-peopled terrace 
of the plains. Look deeply into the wind-furrows of the grass, 
into the leaf-stilled water of pools. Think back through the 
silence, of the life that was and is not here now, of the strong 
pastness of things - shadows of the end and the beginning. 

It is autumn. Leaves are flying, a storm of them over the 
land. They are brown and yellow, parched and pale - Shelly' s 
"pestilence-stricken multitudes." Out of an evening darkness 
they fly in our faces and scare us; like resigned spirits they 
whirl away and spill into hollows, to lie still, one on the other, 
waiting for snow. 

-John Haines 



Alberto Ribs 

Alberto Rios is the author of 
seven books and chapbooks of 
poetry, including Teodoro Luna's 
Two Kisses, and two collections of 
short stories, including Pig Cookies. 
He is the recipient of the Arizona 
Governor's Arts Award, the Walt 
Whitman Award, the Western 
States Book Award for Fiction, 
five Pushcart Prizes in both poetry 
and fiction, and a Guggenheim 
Fellowship. His work is included 
in The Norton Anthology of Modern 
Poetry, as well as in over 100 
national and international literary 
anthologies. His writing is 
regularly taught and translated, 
and has been adapted to both 
classical and modern music. Rios 
is presently Regents Professor of 
English at Arizona State University. 

The NEA helped make me, 
to loosely quote Neruda, 
a writer of public purpose. 
When I received my fellowship 
in 1 979, I had just graduated 
from the University of Arizona 
with an MFA, and had no 
particular plan other than to 
write. If jobs are scarce now, 
they were even scarcer then. 
I had just married, and true to 
my childhood, moved from 
Tucson back to rural Arizona, 
seven miles south of Florence 
in an area known as Cactus 
Forest. There I was. 

My NEA grant was for $ 1 0,000, 
and I bought a car.The car 
helped make me a writer and a 
teacher; it let me make my job 
be anywhere and everywhere. 
I found the classroom to be 
many places.The car was red, 
to be wild - I think to show 
what I felt in my heart about 
the whole circumstance - but 
it was a station wagon, too, 
which spoke to the work I 
knew it would mean. I was 
never sorry. 

This working everywhere, 
with anyone: this has stayed 
with me. If the teaching was 
a scramble of a livelihood 
in those days, Poets-in-the- 
Schools, community forums, 
library talks, I nevertheless 
remember it only as a joy, and 
the foundation of what would 
soon become my university 
teaching. Writing mattered, 
and was a passion, even if in 
the fields of Eloy, or in the 
shadows of the Superstitions 
in Apache Junction, they had 
never spoken this secret 
aloud. The NEA helped me 
to find this out - about them 
and about myself. 

The NEA helped make me, to loosely 
quote Neruda, a writer of public purpose. 



True Story of the Pins 

Pins are always plentiful 

but one day they were not 

and your Uncle Humberto 

who collected all the butterflies 

you see here on the walls, 

was crazy looking for some 

and he went to your cousin 

Graciela the hard seamstress 

who has pins it is rumored 

even in hard times 

but when she found out 

why he wanted them 

because the wind from the south 

who was her friend 

since the earliest days of her 

childhood on the sea 

told her, she firmly refused 

your poor Uncle Humberto 

whose picture is here 

on the wall behind you, 

did you feel his eyes, 

and he went into the most terrible 

of rages, too terrible 

for a butterfly collector 

we all said afterward 

and he burst a vein 

that grew like a great snake 

on his small forehead 

and he died on the dirt 

floor of Graciela's house 

who of course felt sick 

and immediately went 

and put pins, this is what has 

made her hard, through 

the bright wings of the butterflies 

Humberto had prepared 

since he was after all 

her father and she 

could afford no better 

light of perpetuity. 

■Alberto Rios 


CD. Wright 

C.D.Wright was born and 
raised in the Ozark Mountains 
of Arkansas. She has published 
eight collections of poetry, most 
recently Tremble and JustWhistle, 
a booklength poem. String Light 
won the 1 992 Poetry Center Book 
Award given by San Francisco 
State University. She was awarded 
the Wittner Bynner Prize for 
Poetry from the American 
Academy and Institute for Arts 
and Letters in 1986, and in 1987, 
Fellowships from the Guggenheim 
Foundation and the Bunting 
Institute. She was a 1989 recipient 
of the Whiting Writers' Award 
and a 1990 recipient of the 
Rhode Island Governor's Award 
for the Arts. In 1 994, she was 
named State Poet of Rhode Island, 
a five-year post. With poet 
Forrest Gander, she edits Lost 
Roads Publishers. Wright teaches 
at Brown University in Providence, 
Rhode Island. 

Along with hundreds of other 
writers, and artists in all 
media, a fellowship from the 
National Endowment for the 
Arts was the single most 
important award of my 
creative life. While I have 
been the fortunate recipient 
of other awards, some with 
substantially larger monetary 
attachments, none other 
were as critical to me as the 
NEA's in securing an 
opportunity to establish 
myself as an American artist. 
It specifically granted me 
time to finish my first 
booklength collection of 
poems, Translations of the 
Gospel Back Into Tongues t 
a book which has been 

reprinted many times in the 
1 5 years since its first release, 
and time and encouragement 
to write the next book. Some 
of the presses with which 
I have been affiliated would 
not have been able to publish 
my books or anyone else's 
without assistance from the 
NEA. In fact the life of my 
genre is constantly threatened 
in a time and a place in which 
there is such a proliferation 
of competing claims on one's 
attention. I am not even sure 
there would be a recognizable 
American poetry if the 
National Endowment for the 
Arts had not asserted the 
value of having a vital culture. 

I am not even sure there would be a recognizable 
American poetry if the National Endowment for the 
Arts had not asserted the value of having a vital culture. 



Kings' Daughters, 

Home for Unwed Mothers, 1948 

Somewhere there figures a man. In uniform. He's not white. He 

could be AWOL. Sitting on a mattress riddled with cigarette burns. 

Night of a big game in the capitol. Big snow. 

Beyond Pearl river past Petal and Leaf River and Macedonia; 

it is a three-storied house. The only hill around. White. 

The house and hill are white. Lighted upstairs, down. 

She is up on her elbows, bangs wet and in her eyes. The head 

of the unborn is visible at the opening. The head 

crowns. Many helping hands are on her. She is told not to push. 

But breathe. A firm voice. 

With helping hands. They open the howl of her love. Out of her issues: 

volumes of letters, morning glories on a string trellis, the job 

at the Maybelline Factory, the job at the weapons plant, the hummingbird 

hive, her hollyhocks, her grandmother's rigid back next to her 

grandfather's bow, the briefest reflection of her mother's braid 

falling below her wing blades, her atomizers and silverbacked 

brush and comb, the steel balls under her father's knuckles, the 

moon's punched-out face, his two-dollar neckties, the peacock 

coming down the drive; there was the boy shuffling her way with 

the melon on his shoulder, car dust all over his light clothes, the 

Black Cat fireworks sign on the barn, her father's death from 

moving the barn by himself, the family sitting in the darkened 

room drinking ice tea after the funeral, tires blown out on the 

macadam, the women beaten like eggs, the store with foundation 

garments, and boys pelting the girls with peony buds, the meatgrinder 

cringing in the corner of the store, the old icebox she couldn't 

fix and couldn't sell so buried to keep out the kids, her grandmother's 

pride, the prettiest lavalier, the pole houses; there was the boy 

with the melon shifted to the other shoulder, coming her way, 

grown taller and darker, wiping his sweat with his hand, his beautiful 
Nubian head, older and set upon by the longingly necked girls 
from the bottoms, his fishing hole, learning the questions of equality: 
six for the white man and none for the rest; the sloping shadows 
and blue hollows behind his shack, what the sunflowers saw, the 
wide skirts she wore, the lizards they caught, the eagerness with 
which they went through each other's folds of hair and skin, the 
boy's outnumbered pride. 

This couldn't go on, the difficulty of concealment, putting make-up 
over a passion mark. 1947, summer of whiskey and victory and 
fear. It was long, then over. The letters burned. She heaves. Bleeds. 
In the words of the grandmother: Do not eat oranges under the moon, 
eat fruit that is green and cold. What was meant by that, really. 
The infant's head is huge. She tears. He's white. He'll make it 
just fine. The firm voice. The hands that helped. 
What would become of this boychild. The uniformed man and she 
will never know. That they will outlive him. They will never know. 
That he will do things they never dreamed. 

- CD. Wright 


Maxine Hong 

Maxine Hong Kingston is the 
author of The Woman Warrior - 
Memoirs of a Girlhood Among 
Ghosts, China Men, Tripmaster 
Monkey - His Fake Book, 
and Hawai'i One Summer. 
She lives in California. 

Given an NEA grant, I feel 
thanked by my country. 
In a more perfect world, I 
would have received it when 
I needed it. I wish there were 
a way for the unknown writer 
to get a boost. To me, the 
NEA grant is reward for 
having already arrived at 
one's goal. For that, in turn, 
I thank you. 

Given an NEA grant, I feel thanked 
by my country. 





Tripmaster Monkey 

"Let's walk," he said, stubbing out his cigarette. 
"Let's amble the blue North Beach streets as the 
evening sun goes down into the far grey water." 

Though they walked through the land of the 
wasted, no Make sights popped out to hurt him, she 
dispelling them. By day, the neon was not coursing 
through its glass veins. The dancing girl in spangles 
and feathers had flown out of her cage, which hung 
empty over the street. Nobody barked and hustled 
at the doorways to acts and shows. The day-folks, 
wheeling babies, wheeling grandpa, holding 
children by the hand, were shopping for dinner at 
the grocery stores and the bakery, dropping by the 
shoe repair. Oh, the smell of the focaccia oven — O 
Home. A florist with white moustachios jaywalked 
through traffic with armsful of leonine football 
chrysanthemums. Behind glass, at the all-day-all- 
night place on the pie-wedge corner, poets, one to a 
table, were eating breakfast. The Co-Existence Bagel 
Shop was gone. The old guys, Seventh Seal knights, 
had played chess with Death and lost. The Bagel 
Shop, Miss Smith's Tea Room, Blabbermouth Night 
at The Place — all of a gone time. Out from the open 
door of La Bodega, a folksy guitar sweetened the air. 
The guitar was being passed around, and each 
played the tune he knew. You should have been there 
the night Segovia dropped by and played flamenco. 
Wittman musefully sang as if to himself a Mose 
Allison riff. 

A young ma-a-an 

ain't nothin'in this world today. 

Because the ol' men's 

got all the money. 

The air of the City is so filled with poems, you have 
to fight becoming imbued with the general romanza. 
Nanci's long black hair and long black skirt skirled 
with the afternoon breezes. The leather of her 
shoulder bag strapped a breast. Her arms and 
outstretched legs were also long and black; she wore 
a leotard and tights like an old-fashioned Beat chick 

but, honestly, a dancer, dance togs for a good reason. 
Here he was: Wittman Ah Sing profiling down the 
street with a beautiful almost-girlfriend, clipping 
along, alongside, keeping up with him, the two of 
them making the scene on the Beach, like cruising 
in the gone Kerouac time of yore. 

He ducked into the bookstore. She followed 
right on in. She stood beside him, browsing the rack 
of quarterlies, quite a few brave Volume 1 Number 
Ones. There were homemade books too, mimeo 
jobs, stencils, and small-press poetry that fit neat in 
the hand. On the top rack — right inside the door at 
eye level for all to see coming in or going out — was: 
an artistic avant-garde far-out new magazine that 
had published — in print — a scene from his play- 
in-progress — the lead-piece — with his byline — 
right inside the front cover. He could reach over 
and hand it to her, but it would be more perfect if 
she happened to pick it out herself, come upon his 
premiere on her own, and be impressed. (F. Scott 
Fitzgerald, trying to impress Sheila Graham, had 
driven to every bookstore in L.A., but could not find 
a copy of any of his books.) 

Wittman went downstairs to the cool basement, 
where among the bookshelves were chairs and tables 
with ashtrays. He had first come to this place when 
he was a high-school kid on one of his escapes from 
Sacramento, Second City to Big City. No No Free 
Reading sign. No No Smoking. You didn't have to 
buy a book; you could read for nothing. You had a 
hangout where you didn't have to spend money. 
Quiet. All the radios in Chinatown blaring out the 
ball game, but here, we don't care about the World 
Series. He hadn't known the City Lights Pocket 
Book Shop was famous until the Howl trial, which 
he had cut school to attend. "Shig" Shigeyoshi 
Murao was the one charged with selling an obscene 
book. The muster of famous poets had blown 
Wittman away — everybody friends with everybody 
else, a gang of poets. He, poor monkey, was yet 
looking for others of his kind. 

- Maxine Hong Kingston 


Linda Hogan 

Linda Hogan is a Chickasaw poet, 
novelist, and essayist. Her most 
recent books are Dwellings:A 
Spiritual History of the Natural World 
and a novel, Solar Storms, which 
received the Colorado Book 
Award. Hogan's earlier novel, 
Mean Spirit, was one of three 
finalists for the Pulitzer Prize 
in 1 99 1 . Seeing Through the Sun, 
received an American Book Award 
from the Before Columbus 
Foundation, and The Book of 
Medicines received the Colorado 
Book Award and was a finalist 
for the National Book Critics 
Circle Award. She is the recipient 
of a Guggenheim fellowship, 
a Minnesota Arts Board Grant, 
a Colorado Writers Fellowship, 
a Lannan Fellowship, and The 
Five Civilized Tribes Museum 
Playwriting Award. She is 
co-editor of Intimate Nature: 
The Bond Between Women and 
Animals and "Everything Has a 
Spirit," a documentary film on 
PBS. Her novel Power will be 
published by Norton in 1998. 

The year I received an NEA 
fellowship was just before the 
literature of Native American 
writers was surfacing and 
becoming visible to American 
publishing.The conscience 
of this country was not yet 
examined. For the most part, 
we Indian people were 
portrayed as part of the 
American narrative in words 
not our own, in stories told 
about us but not by us. 

The year I received a 
fellowship I was able to 
have the time and silence 
to write, to add a voice to 
the story of our land, an 
indigenous voice grown from, 
shaped by, this land. It allowed 
for the expression of love 
and relationship that rose 
from within this beautiful 
landscape and the people 
it has sustained, the people 
who have sustained it. 

Among researchers who 
study whale language, 
it is known that the songs 
of whales are constantly 
changing. Some parts of the 
song drop away while new 
songs appear. Like whales, 
our stories, too, are 
constantly growing and 
evolving. Through writing, 
through time, our world is 
made larger, reenvisioned 
with sharper, more clear 
eyes. The stories I have been 
allowed to participate in, 
through the gift of this time 
of support, have allowed for 
another view of history and 
the American story, a view 
still growing. 

The stories I have been allowed to participate in, - 
through the gift of this time of support, have allowed 
for another view of history and the American story. . 




Inside the dark human waters 

of our mothers, 

inside the blue drum of skin 

that beat the slow song of our tribes 

we knew the drifts of continents 

and moving tides. 

We are the people who left water 

to enter a dry world. 

We have survived soldiers and drought, 

survived hunger 

and living 

inside the unmapped terrain 

of loneliness. 

That is why we have thirst. 

It is why 

when we love 

we remember our lives in water, 

that other lives fall through us 

like fish swimming in an endless sea, 

that we are walking another way 

than time, 

to new life, backward 

to deliver ourselves to rain and river, 

this water 

that will become other water 

this blood that will become other blood 

and is the oldest place 

the deepest world 

the skin of water 

that knows the drum before the hand meets it. 

- Linda Hogan 


J. D. McClatchy 

J.D. McClatchy is the author 
of four collections of poems: 
Scenes From Another Life, Stars 
Principal, The Rest of the Way, and 
Ten Commandments. His literary 
essays are collected in White Paper, 
which was given the Melville Cane 
Award by the Poetry Society of 
America, and in Twenty Questions. 
He has also edited TheVintage Rook 
of Contemporary World Poetry, 
The Vintage Book of Contemporary 
American Poetry, Poets on Painters, 
Recitative: Prose by James Merrill, 
and Anne Sexton:The Poet and Her 
Critics. His new translation of 
Horace's The Art of Poetry will be 
published later this year by Sea 
Cliff Press. McClatchy has taught 
at Princeton, Yale, Columbia, 
UCLA, Rutgers, and other 
universities, and since 1991, 

he has served as editor of 
The Yale Review. He has written 
four libretti, most recently 
for Tobias Picker's Emmeline, 
commissioned by the Santa Fe 
Opera in 1 996 and broadcast 
nationally on PBS. In 1996, he 
was named a Chancellor of the 
Academy of American Poets. 
In 1 99 1 , he was given an Award 
in Literature by the American 
Academy and Institute of Arts 
& Letters, and the citation read: 
"It may be that no more eloquent 
poet will emerge in his American 

"Bees" is a fable about 
two aspects of the creative 
imagination: its syrups and 
its stitching, its restlessness 
and its concentration. Both 
are necessary to make - or 
rather, do the work of art. 
Through its fellowship 
program, the National 
Endowment for the Arts 
has given literary artists 
the time to think and the 
encouragement to write. 
I know because a while ago, 
when I needed one, I had the 
good fortune to receive one 
of these fellowships, and it 
made a crucial difference. 
Every poem takes a lifetime 
to write. Over the years, the 
NEA's enlightened initiatives 
have themselves given life 
to the nation's imagination. 
If the spirit of this country 
is not its foremost national 
interest, what is? And when 
government abdicates its 
responsibility to nourish that 
spirit, who is being served? 

Over the years, the NEA's enlightened initiatives have 
themselves given life to the nation's imagination. 




First to bloom at last 

this late spring 
the crabapple's a wain 

of white the ox 
sun is hauling homeward. 

Humble brawl on top 
goaded by syrups, 

the rut of work so far 
from the wing-lit 

hive of their making. 

A bent toward folly argues 

for intelligence. 
They'll break with the past 

as with an enemy. 
The flowers cry to them. 

* * * 

Left behind, in clover's 

common sense, 
a solitary honeybee 

plies her trade. 
Circumspect, all twelve 

thousand eyes are trained 
on her needlework: 

genetic cross-stitch 
and pollen purl. 

Her pattern is the field's. 

- J.D. McClatchy 


W. D. Snodgrass 

W.D. Snodgrass is a poet, 
translator and literary critic 
who has published over a dozen 
books, including After Experience: 
Poems and Translations, The Fuhrer 
&unker,To Shape a Song,The Death 
of Cock Robin, Autumn Variations, 
and Each in His Season. He taught 
for many years at the University 
of Delaware and received the 
Pulitzer Prize for Heart's Needle. 

The grant I received from 
the NEA in 1966 permitted 
me to take a Sabbatical Leave 
from my teaching post at 
Wayne State University. 

Of the three books I worked 
on, the most crucial for 
me was a collection of new 
poems, After Experience. 
I had been warned by older 
poets that because of the 
good reception my first book 
had met, I should expect many 
bad reviews for this book. 
So it was very important for 
me that, if the book were 
attacked, that would not 
shake my confidence that 
I had done the best I could. 

I also did a great deal of work 
on translating the poems of 
the great German comic poet, 
Christian Morgenstern. Lore 
Segal and I translated roughly 
1 50 of his poems and then 
chose 1 24 for our volume, 
Gallows Songs, which used 

engravings by Paul Klee. I 
once overheard Randall Jarrell 
remark that it was the best 
book of poetry translations 
he'd ever read. To call that 
encouraging would be a vast 

Finally, I was able to do much 
of the work on a cycle of poems 
about the death of my sister. 
These poems appeared in 
1970 from the Perishable Press 
in a pseudonymous volume, 
Remains, by S.S. Gardons. 
After the death of my parents, 
this book was republished 
(with some revisions) by 
BOA Editions in 1985. 

At that critical juncture - the 
period after a successful first 
book and a time of great 
turmoil in my personal affairs 
- such support was of greatest 
value in assuring me that my 
work was recognized and held 
in high regard. 

At that critical juncture. . . such support was 
of greatest value. 



A Seashell 

Say that inside this shell, some live 

Thing hungered, trembled to survive, 

Mated, died. Lift this to your ear 

The way the young, on tape decks, hear 

What to become, or on the phone, 

The old evoke a dial tone 

To what they had. Your blood will pound 

Down those bare chambers, then resound 

Your own ear's caverns as a ground 

Bass swells, the depths of some salt tide 
Still tuned to our salt blood. Outside, 
The woods, nights, still ring back each word. 
Our young owl, though, that always heard 
My hoot, then veered down through the dark, 
Our fox that barked back when we'd bark, 
Won't answer, though. Small loss, now, when 
Friends ask that I not call again. 
Our pulse homed in on each other's, then. 

Last night, I heard your voice — caught on 
Streets we once taped in Isfahan; 
Then, in a mosque near Joppa, blent 
With hushed devotions and lament. 
Now, put the shell back down, at rest 
Near this brain coral, this wren's nest, 
These photographs that will stand here 
On their shelf in the silent, dear, 
Locked, empty house another year. 

- W.D. Snodgrass 


Joy Williams 

Joy Williams is perhaps best 
known for her gemlike short 
stories, particularly the collection 
Taking Care. She is the author 
of State of Grace, The Changling, 
Breaking and Entering, and Escapes, 
and a history and guide called 
The Florida Keyes. She has taught 
around the country at several 
universities, and in 1974, she 
received a Guggenheim fellowship. 
She lives in the Florida Keys. 

It's a remarkable thing to 
be rewarded by one's own 
government for being an 
artist, for pursuing a unique 
vision. The recognition and 
money was enormously 
helpful to me at the time, 
and since then I've been a 
judge for the NEA and know 
that the criteria is excellence, 
always only excellence and 
promise. It's a great fellowship 
to receive, a sustaining and 
emboldening award. 

It's a remarkable thing to be rewarded by 
one's own government for being an artist, 
for pursuing a unique vision. 




The Yard Boy 

The yard boy was a spiritual materialist. He lived 
in the Now. He was free from the karmic chain. 
Being enlightened wasn't easy. It was very hard 
work. It was manual labor actually. 

The enlightened being is free. He feels the 
sorrows and sadness of those around him but does 
not necessarily feel his own. The yard boy felt that 
he had been enlightened for about two months, at 
the most. 

The yard boy had two possessions. One was a 
pickup truck. The other was a plover he had stuffed 
and mounted when he thought he wanted to be an 
ornithologist, in the days before he had become a 
spiritual materialist. The bird was in the room he 
rented. The only other thing in the room was a bed. 
The landlady provided sheets and towels. Some- 
times when he came back from work hot and sweaty 
with little bits of leaves and stuff caught in his hair, 
the landlady would give him a piece of key lime pie 
on a blue plate. 

The yard boy was content. He had hard 
muscular arms and a tanned back. He had compas- 
sion. He had a girl friend. When he thought about 
it, he supposed that having a girl friend was a cop- 
out to the security which he had eschewed. This 
was a preconception however and a preconception 
was the worst form of all the forms of security. The 
yard boy believed he was in balance on this point. 
He tried to see things the way they were from the 
midst of nowhere, and he felt he had worked out 
this difficulty about the girl friend satisfactorily. 
The important thing was to be able to see through 
the veils of preconception. 

The yard boy was a handsome fellow. He 
seldom spoke. He was appealing. Once he had 
run over an old lady and had broken her leg, but 
no one had gotten mad at him about it. Now that 
he was a yard boy his hands smelled of 6-6-6. 
His jeans smelled of tangelos. He was honest and 
truthful, a straightforward person who did not 
distinguish between this and that. For the girl friend 
he always had a terrific silky business which was 
always at the ready. 

The yard boy worked for several very wealthy 
people. In the morning of every day he got into his 
pickup and drove over the causeways to the Keys 
where he mowed and clipped and cut and hauled. 
He talked to the plants. He always told them what he 
was going to do before he did it so that they would 
have a chance to prepare themselves. Plants have 
lived in the Now for a long time but they still have 
to have some things explained to them. 

At the Wilsons' house the yard boy clips a 
sucker from an orange tree. It is May. Even so, the 
orange tree doesn't like it much. Mrs. Wilson comes 
out and watches the yard boy while he works. She 
has her son with her. He is about three. He doesn't 
talk yet. His name is Tao. Mrs. Wilson is wealthy 
and can afford to be wacky. What was she supposed 
to do after all, she asked the yard boy once, call her 
kid George? Fred? For Godssakes. 

Her obstetrician had told her at the time that 
he had never seen a more perfectly shaped head. 

The Wilsons' surroundings are splendid. 
Mrs. Wilson has splendid clothes, a splendid figure. 
She has a wonderful Cuban cook. The house is 
worth three quarters of a million dollars. The 
plantings are worth a hundred thousand dollars. 
Everything has a price. It is fantastic. A precise 
worth has been ascribed to everything. Every worm 
and aphid can be counted upon. It costs a certain 
amount of money to eradicate them. The sod is laid 
down fresh every year. For weeks after the lawn is 
installed, the seams are visible and then the squares 
of grass gather together and it becomes, everywhere, 
in sun or shade, a smooth, witty and improbable 
green like the color of a parrot. 

Mrs. Wilson follows the yard boy around 
as he tends to the hibiscus, the bougainvillea, 
the poinciana, the Cuban Royal, the natal plum. 
They stand beneath the mango, looking up. 

"Isn't it pagan," Mrs. Wilson says. 

-Joy Williams 


Alice Walker 

Alice Walker was born in Georgia 
and has worked all over the 
country as a social worker and 
teacher. She has written novels, 
children's fiction, poetry, essays, 
novellas and short stories and 
earned numerous awards and 
fellowships for her work. Her 
short story collections include 
In Love andTrouble and Ybu Can't 
Keep A Good Woman Down, and 
among her poetry titles are 
Goodnight, Willie Lee, I'll See Ybu 
in the Morning and Horses Make 
a Landscape Beautiful. Her novels 
include the Pulitzer Prize-winning 
The Color Purple. Her most recent 
book is Anything We Love Can Be 
Saved: A Writer's Activism. 

The small NEA grant 
encouraged me to believe 
someone other than myself 
valued what I was doing. This 
was large. 

The small NEA grant encouraged me to believe 
someone other than myself valued what I was doing. 




The Flowers 

It seemed to Myop as she skipped lightly from hen 
house to pigpen to smokehouse that the days had 
never been as beautiful as these. The air held a 
keenness that made her nose twitch. The harvesting 
of the corn and cotton, peanuts and squash, made 
each day a golden suqarise that caused excited little 
tremors to run up her jaws. 

Myop carried a short, knobby stick. She struck 
out at random at chickens she liked, and worked out 
the beat of a song on the fence around the pigpen. 
She felt light and good in the warm sun. She was 
ten, and nothing existed for her but her song, the 
stick clutched in her dark brown hand, and the tat- 
de-ta-ta-ta of accompaniment. 

Turning her back on the rusty boards of her 
family's sharecropper cabin, Myop walked along the 
fence till it ran into the stream made by the spring. 
Around the spring, where the family got drinking 
water, silver ferns and wildflowers grew. Along the 
shallow banks pigs rooted. Myop watched the tiny 
white bubbles disrupt the thin black scale of soil and 
the water that silently rose and slid away down the 

She had explored the woods behind the house 
many times. Often, in late autumn, her mother took 
her to gather nuts among the fallen leaves. Today 
she made her own path, bouncing this way and that 
way, vaguely keeping an eye out for snakes. She 
found, in addition to various common but pretty 
ferns and leaves, an armful of strange blue flowers 
with velvety ridges and a sweetsuds bush full of the 
brown, fragrant buds. 

By twelve o'clock, her arms laden with sprigs 
of her findings, she was a mile or more from home. 
She had often been as far before, but the strangeness 
of the land made it not as pleasant as her usual 

haunts. It seemed gloomy in the little cove in which 
she found herself. The air was damp, the silence 
close and deep. 

Myop began to circle back to the house, back 
to the peacefulness of the morning. It was then she 
stepped smack into his eyes. Her heel became 
lodged in the broken ridge between brow and nose, 
and she reached down quickly, unafraid, to free 
herself. It was only when she saw his naked grin that 
she gave a little yelp of surprise. 

He had been a tall man. From feet to neck 
covered a long space. His head lay beside him. 
When she pushed back the leaves and layers of earth 
and debris, Myop saw that he'd had large white 
teeth, all of them cracked or broken, long fingers, 
and very big bones. All his clothes had rotted away 
except some threads of blue denim from his overalls. 
The buckles of the overalls had turned green. 

Myop gazed around the spot with interest. 
Very near where she'd stepped into the head was a 
wild pink rose. As she picked it to add to her bundle 
she noticed a raised mound, a ring, around the 
rose's root. It was the notted remains of a noose, a 
bit of shredding plowline, now blending benignly 
into the soil. Around an overhanging limb of a great 
spreading oak clung another piece. Frayed, rotted, 
bleached, and frazzled — barely there — but 
spinning relendessly in the breeze. Myop laid down 
her flowers. 

And the summer was over. 

- Alice Walker 


Cathy Son| 

Cathy Song was born in Honolulu, 
Hawai'i. Her first book of poems, 
Picture Bride, was selected by 
Richard Hugo as winner of the 
1 982 Yale Series of Younger Poets 
Award and was also nominated 
for the National Book Critics 
Circle Award. Her second book, 
Frameless Windows, Squares of Light, 
was published in 1988 by WW. 
Norton. In 1994, the University 
of Pittsburgh Press brought out 
School Figures in the Pitt Poetry 
Series. She has received a number 
of awards including the Shelley 
Memorial Award from the Poetry 
Society of America and the Hawai'i 
Award for Literature. Her poetry 
has been widely published in such 
anthologies as The Norton Anthology 
of Modern Poetry and The Norton 
Anthology of American Literature. 

A Literature fellowship from 
the National Endowment for 
the Arts means a great deal 
to me. It means I live in a 
country that refuses to be 
shut down, numbed, silenced 
and partylined by the ranting 
and raving of the truly timid - 
those who in their fear of life 
and living seek to make it 
their mission to obstruct the 
voices of its artists. It means I 
live in a country that chooses 
to hear the vital singing - the 
pulsations, the life blood, the 
pathways that connect us 
profoundly to each other, 
profoundly to the intelligent 
compassionate cosmos. 

[This fellowship] means a great deal to me. 
It means I live in a country that refuses to be 
shut down, numbed, silenced... 



Picture Bride 

She was a year younger 

than I, 

twenty-three when she left Korea. 

Did she simply close 

the door of her father's house 

and walk away. And 

was it a long way 

through the tailor shops of Pusan 

to the wharf where the boat 

waited to take her to an island 

whose name she had 

only recently learned, 

on whose shore 

a man waited, 

turning her photograph 

to the light where lanterns 

in the camp outside 

Waialua Sugar Mill were lit 

and the inside of his room 

grew luminous 

from the wings of moths 

migrating out of the cane stalks? 

What things did my grandmother 

take with her? And when 

she arrived to look 

into the face of the stranger 

who was her husband, 

thirteen years older than she, 

did she politely untie 

the silk bow of her jacket, 

her tent-shaped dress 

filling with the dry wind 

that blew from the surrounding fields 

where the men were burning the cane? 

- Cathy Song 


Robert Wrigley 

Robert Wrigley was born in East 
St. Louis, Illinois, but has lived the 
last 20 years and more in Idaho, 
where he has come to a deep 
and abiding love of the Western 
wilderness. He has published four 
books of poetry, the most recent 
being In The Bank Of Beautiful Sins, 
which won the 1997 San Francisco 
Poetry Center Book Award. 
In addition to his two NEA 
Fellowships, he has received 
fellowships from the Guggenheim 
Foundation and the Idaho 
Commission on the Arts. For 
two years in the mid-eighties, 
he served as Idaho's state 
writer-in-residence. He lives 
with his family at Lenore, in the 
canyon of the Clearwater River. 

As I look down the list 
of contributors to this 
anthology, I am both humbled 
and honored. It's a little like 
a literary who's who, except 
that many of the folks here 
were not who they are now, 
back when they received their 
NEA Fellowships. And that's 
the point. NEA Literature 
Fellowships have always been 
an investment in literary 
potential, in the kind of 
writers who will probably 
never make the bestseller list, 
but who will in the long run 
shape the literary history of 
the nation. Even with my NEA 
Fellowship, I couldn't afford 
to quit my job and write full- 
time, but it allowed me to 

teach half-time and to devote 
just enough of myself to my 
art to take the necessary 
stride to another level, and 
maybe that stride is why I am 
lucky enough to find myself in 
this extraordinary company 
today. And as the primary 
definition of "fellowship" 
indicates, it is foremost a 
feeling of community that 
comes with such an award. 
Not merely a community 
of writers either, but a 
community of Americans, 
who have helped us to get 
the work down on paper, and 
to whom we mean to give 
back the best we can do. 

NEA Literature Fellowships have always been an 
investment in literary potential, in the kind of writers who 
will probably never make the bestseller list, but who will 
in the long run shape the literary history of the nation. 



Field Burning: A Full Moon 

Cold air comes down like a dome 

above the burning fields. 

For days the rabbits and mice have fled, 

the sky all smoke and rapturous wings. 

It is something to see, all right, 

cars from town parked along the barrows, 

bird-watchers clutching binoculars, 

and parents on their knees 

tracing an eagle's plummet toward a vole. 

Now the moon, a salmon medallion, 

some red-faced farm boy leering past a banjo. 

Who doesn't love the black birds 

coming priestly through the just-cooled ash 

and euthanized stubble? They will eat 

even cooked meat, they will primp 

and call, little tramps of darkness 

keeping funereal hours, cassocked wings 

behind their backs, furrow to furrow, collecting souls. 

- Robert Wrigley 


Li-Young Lee 

Li-Young Lee was born in 1 957 
in Jakarta, Indonesia of Chinese 
parents. In 1959 after spending a 
year as a political prisoner, Lee's 
father fled the country with his 
family, and settled in America in 
1 964. Lee is the author of two 
volumes of poetry: The City in 
Which I Love You, the 1 990 Lamont 
Poetry Selection of the Academy 
of American Poets, and Rose. Mr. 
Lee is the recipient of grants from 
the Guggenheim Foundation and 
the Illinois Council on the Arts. 

I can't imagine my life without 
the grants. They allowed me 
the kind of uninterrupted time 
to follow every instinct and 
intuition to their inevitable 
conclusions. The fellowships 
allowed me to practice a kind 
of consistency and constancy 
in regards to my art. 

The fellowships allowed me to practice 
a kind of consistency and constancy in 
regards to my art. 



This Hour and What Is Dead 

Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking 

through bare rooms over my head, 

opening and closing doors. 

What could he be looking for in an empty house? 

What could he possibly need there in heaven? 

Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches? 

His love for me feels like spilled water 

running back to its vessel. 

At this hour, what is dead is restless 
and what is living is burning. 

Someone tell him he should sleep now. 

My father keeps a light on by our bed 

and readies for our journey. 

He mends ten holes at the knees 

of five pairs of boys' pants. 

His love for me is like his sewing: 

too much thread and various colors, 

the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces 

clean through with each stroke of his hand. 

At this hour, what is dead is worried 
and what is living is fugitive. 

Someone tell him he should sleep now. 

God, that old furnace, keeps talking 

with his mouth of teeth, 

a beard stained at feasts, and his breath 

of gasoline, airplane, human ash. 

His love for me feels like fire, 

feels like doves, feels like river water. 

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind 
and helpless. While the Lord lives. 

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone. 

I've had enough of his love 

that feels like burning and flight and running away. 

- Li-Young Lee 


Scott Russell Sanders 

Scott Russell Sanders is the author 
of 15 books, including novels, 
collections of stories and essays, 
and personal narratives. His work 
has been supported by fellowships 
from the Indiana Arts Commission, 
the Lilly Endowment, and the 
Danforth and Guggenheim 
Foundations. Among his honors 
are the Associated Writing 
Programs Award in Creative 
Nonfiction for The Paradise of 
Bombs, the Ohioana Book Award 
for Staying Put, and the Great 
Lakes Book Award for Writing 
From The Center. In 1 995 he 
received the Lannan Literary 
Award for his collected work 
in nonfiction. Sanders has also 
won the highest teaching award 
at Indiana University, where he is 
Distinguished Professor of English. 

When I received the 
fellowship, I had published 
only a single book, after ten 
years of hard work, and I 
was beginning to wonder 
if my stubborn commitment 
to writing was foolhardy. 
The letter from NEA not 
only assured me of a year's 
freedom to concentrate 
on my art, it reassured me 
that I wasn't a fool for loving 
language or for imagining that 
I might learn to use it well. 
While my fellow writers, 
acting as judges, picked my 
manuscript out of the pile, 
my fellow citizens gave me 
the money through their 
taxes, and this gift has 
deepened my desire to 
make books that are useful 
to my community, as well 
as beautiful. 

. . .this gift has deepened my desire to make books that 
are useful to mv conmimiitv. as well as beautiful. 




Landscape and Imagination 

To be intimate with a landscape is to know its moods 
and contours as you would know a lover's. The shape 
of breasts and hills, the sound of a laugh or the song 
of bullfrogs, the smell of hair and honeysuckle — 
such knowledge becomes part of who you are. As in 
marriage, however, what is utterly familiar may lose 
its charm, may in fact become invisible, until you are 
deprived of it. Absent yourself a while from lover or 
landscape, and upon returning you will recognize 
with fresh acuity what you had known but forgotten. 

I experienced such a freshening of awareness 
not long ago, when I returned with my family to 
Indiana after a year's sojourn in Boston. We drove 
into the state one afternoon toward the end of July, 
the air rushing in our car windows like the breath 
from a furnace, a haze of muggy heat blurring the 
flat horizon. Thunderheads were massing in the 
west, grave clouds that cast their dark temper onto 
the whole countryside. A rising wind made silver 
maples show the pale undersides of their leaves and 
set cattails stirring in stock ponds and bent the 
trajectories of birds. After a year in the bunched-up 
terrain of New England, I was amazed by the extent 
of sky, the openness of the land, the vigor of the 
head-high corn, the loneliness of the farmsteads, 
the authority of those clouds. 

We pulled over and shut off the engine for a 
change of drivers. I could smell hot tar bubbling in 
the joints of the road, creosote in telephone poles, 
windblown dust from cultivated fields, the mustiness 
of new-mown hay, the green pungency of Queen 
Anne's lace and chicory and black-eyed Susans. 
In the stillness I could hear the distant grumble of 
thunder like a clearing of throats, and the nearby 
ratcheting of crickets and cicadas. Only when 
I caught those smells, heard those sounds, did I 
realize how much I had missed them in the East, 
just as I had missed the sight of a level horizon 
broken by power lines, grain elevators, water towers, 

silos, and the shade trees around farmhouses. 
During our absence, the Midwest had suffered 
through a plague of cicadas. When we had called 
Indiana from Boston, the ruckus of insects over the 
telephone had all but drowned out the voices of our 
friends. Now, as I walked around to the passenger 
side of the car, cast-off cicada shells crunched under 
my feet. That sensation also was a re-discover)'. 
We angled south from Indianapolis toward 
home in Bloomington, coasting from the glacial 
plain into wooded hills, a landscape not so markedly 
different from that of New England. And yet even 
here my heightened senses picked up a flurry of 
details that characterize this place: limestone 
roadcuts, the white blaze of sycamores in creekbeds, 
pastures growing up in cedar and sumac, bottom- 
lands planted in soybeans, sway-backed barns 
tatooed with ads for chewing tobacco, sinuous 
gravel driveways leading to basketball hoops, 
trailers and shacks interspersed with tidy ranch 
houses, the occasional white clapboard mansion 
encrusted with fretwork, the blither of billboards 
(outlawed in most of New England), the low-slung 
evangelical churches, and over it all that sovereign 
sky. The light was the silken yellow peculiar to a 
region of tornadoes. The fields recendy harrowed 
were the color of buckskin. Unchecked by ocean or 
mountains, the storm that came roaring through the 
hills was another local species, its thunder jolting us 
inside the car with sudden changes in air pressure. 
In the twilight before the deluge, fireflies along the 
roadside blinked their semaphore of desire. Even in 
the dark that overtook us before we reached our 
front door, there was an unmistakable familiarity in 
the roasted-earth smell of rain and in the leap of 
lightning, which lit up the swirling treetops and 
shaggy hills. 

- Scott Russell Sanders 


Jane Smiley 

Jane Smiley is the author 
of At Paradise Gate, Duplicate Keys, 
The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, 
Ordinary Love and Good Will, and 
Moo. Her novel, A Thousand Acres, 
received the Pulitzer Prize. She 
teaches in the Department of 
English at Iowa State University. 

I received my first NEA 
fellowship in 1977. 1 got 
$7500, which was a 
tremendous amount at the 
time, and enabled me to 
write my first novel, Barn 
Blind. The pat on the back 
was worth as much as the 
money. For the first time, I 
felt rewarded rather than just 
allowed to proceed. I received 
my second fellowship in 1987, 
after I had established myself 
as a promising young writer, 
but while I was still casting 
about for the real subjects of 
my mature work.The money 
enabled me to write fiction 

rather than look for 
journalism or nonfiction 
topics that might be quick to 
sell. In both instances, money 
from the NEA smoothed my 
passage through difficult 
transitional moments in my 
career, and helped me move 
forward. All in all, I received 
$27,500. Once my career was 
established, the federal taxes 
and social security taxes I paid 
on my writing repaid by many 
times what I received. All 
federal programs should have 
such a rate of return! 

The money enabled me to write fiction rather than 
look for journalism or nonfiction topics that might be 
quick to sell. 






A Thousand Acres 

There was no way to tell by looking that the land 
beneath my childish feet wasn't the primeval mold 
I read about at school, but it was new, created by 
magic lines of tile my father would talk about with 
pleasure and reverence. Tile "drew" the water, 
warmed the soil, and made it easy to work, enabled 
him to get into the fields with his machinery a mere 
twenty-four hours after the heaviest storm. Most 
magically, die produced prosperity — more bushels 
per acre of a better crop, year after year, wet or dry. 
I knew what the tile looked like (when I was very 
young, five- or twelve-inch cylinders of real tile 
always lay here and there around the farm, for repairs 
or extensions of rile lines; as I got older, "tile" 
became long snakes of plastic tubing), but for years, 
I imagined a floor beneath the topsoil, checkered 
aqua and yellow like the floor in the girls' bathroom 
in the elementary school, a hard shiny floor you 
could not sink beneath, better than a trust fund, 
more reliable than crop insurance, a farmer's best 
patrimony. It took John and Sam and, at the end, 
my father, a generation, twenty-five years, to lay the 
tile lines and dig the drainage wells and cisterns. 
I in my Sunday dress and hat, driving in the Buick 
to church, was the beneficiary of this grand effort, 
someone who would always have a floor to walk on. 
However much these acres looked like a gift from 
nature, or of God, they were not. We went to church 
to pay our respects, not to give thanks. 

It was pretty clear that John Cook had gained, 
through dint of sweat equity, a share in the Davis 
farm, and when Edith turned sixteen, John, thirty- 
three by then, married her. They continued to live in 
the bungalow, and Sam and Arabella ordered a house 
from Sears, this one larger and more ostentatious 

than the bungalow, "The Chelsea." They took 
delivery on the Chelsea (four bedrooms, living room, 
dining room, and reception hall, with indoor 
bathroom, and sliding doors between the living 
room and dining room, $1 129) at the freight delivery 
point in Cabot. The kit included every board, joist, 
nail, window frame, and door that they would need, 
as well as seventy-six pages of instructions. That was 
the house that we grew up in and that my father lived 
in. The bungalow was torn down in the thirties and 
the lumber was used for a chicken house. 

I was always aware, I think, of the water in the 
soil, the way it travels from particle to particle, 
molecules adhering, clustering, evaporating, hearing, 
cooling, freezing, rising upward to the surface and 
fogging the cool air or sinking downward, dissolving 
this nutrient and that, quick in everything it does, 
endlessly working and flowing, a river sometimes, 
a lake sometimes. When I was very young, I imagined 
it ready at any time to rise and cover the earth again, 
except for the rile lines. Prairie settlers always saw 
a sea or an ocean of grass, could never think of any 
other metaphor, since most of them had lately seen 
the Atlantic. The Davises did find a shimmering 
sheet punctuated by cattails and sweet flag. The 
grass is gone, now, and the marshes, "the big wet 
prairie," but the sea is still beneath our feet, and 
we walk on it. 

- Jane Smiley 


Albert Goldbarth 

Albert Goldbarth lives in Wichita, 
Kansas. He has been publishing 
notable books of poetry for over 
two decades, a number of which 
gratefully acknowledge fellowship 
assistance from the NEA. His 
collections include Heaven and 
Earth, which received the National 
Book Critics Circle Award, and 
his most recent volume, Adventures 
in Ancient Egypt. He is also the 
author of two books of creative 
nonfiction.A Sympathy of Souls 
and Great Topics oftheWorld. 

It's tempting to praise the 
Creative Writing Fellowship 
program of the National 
Endowment for the Arts 
by repeating the wisdom 
common among my artist 
friends: that a culture is 
judged in future generations 
most honorably when it is 
judged by its artistic legacy. 
This is true, but for me, today, 
it's a little too lofty. My own 
fellowships from the NEA 
have meant, much more 

simply and immediately, 
a kind of hands-on 
encouragement (emotional 
as well as fiscal) when it 
was most needed; and an 
immediate implication that 
artistic production is, as much 
as the keeping of accounts 
books or the piling up of 
weapons, seen as a viable 
contribution to the ongoing 
life of one's country. For that, 
let me yelp a few hurrahs. 

. . .a culture is judged in future generations 
most honorably when it is judged by its 
artistic legacy. 




The sky is nearly plaided with the speedy traffic 

of boomerang-shape, one-family (or sportier) airmobiles 

on the cover of the sci-fi book he's reading, he being 

fourteen. He can't abide the present moment, it's so 

. . .crummy, really crummy. He can't start 

to see his own next twenty years, whatever 

compromise and common, almost begrudgingly kept, fidelities 

it's sure to hold. And so he's all of a thousand years 

ahead of the rest of his sleeping household, 

dreamily leaping over the pinnacled surface of other planets 

in silvery gravi-boots: a woman to rescue, 

a Star Alliance robo-ship to save. A thousand years 

ago, (AD 922) the envoy Ibn Fallan witnessed 

"the girl who devoted herself to death" be 

stabbed, and then pyred alongside a Viking chief 

while, otherwheres, one Luitprand of Cremona (AD 950 or so) 

was delivered "on the shoulders of two eunuchs" 

into the presence of the Emperor of Constantinople, whose throne, 

"anon, did float in the air above me." Wonders. Atrocities 

and wonders. And though they couldn't foretell the simple 

rrrip of a velcro strip, or the tick of an engine cooling down 

like the pawl on a slowing carnival wheel, still 

these ancient chroniclers would recognize our own 

ongoing fears, small courage, and sleeplessness. Speaking 

of which: while I've been diverting us, someone's awakened. 

His mother. She rarely sleeps for more than an hour 

now, from the lump's extending its spidery legs. 

The doctor says: six months. And so at night she carefully 

plans the listed details of her own funeral. The music, 

the floral decor (by individual blossom), the opening poem. 

Her own sure, heart-of-hearts choice for the latter is 

Dylan Thomas's "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" 

— such a painful, lavish, spilled-out bag of language! — but 

her Women's Support Group thinks a "woman poet" more 

appropriate, and wields subtle pressures men 

would never be allowed. After all, the battle is never over; 

there's so much left to be done. 

Albert Goldbarth 


Bobbie Ann Mason 

Bobbie Ann Mason is from 
Kentucky. She has published two 
collections of stories and three 
novels: Liia + Spence, In Country, 
and Feather Crowns. She has 
received a Guggenheim 
Fellowship, a grant from the 
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, 
and the American Academy and 
Institute for Arts & Letters Award. 

I used my NEA fellowship to 
write my novel, In Country, 
which was published by 
Harper & Row in 1 985. 
When I began writing my 
novel, I found my energy was 
not focused on the work at 
hand because of the disparate 
nature and erratic scheduling 
of the activities required 
to earn a living.Therefore, 
the NEA grant came at an 
opportune time to let me pull 
back and turn my attention 
entirely to the novel. 

I wanted to do something 
that would be rich and lasting, 
but I never expected it to 
have such popular appeal and 
tangible social effect. Yet this 
novel was a surprising 
commercial success, and it 
has affected the lives of many 
people. In Country is about a 
high school girl's quest for 
knowledge about her father, 
who died in Vietnam just 
before she was born. Because 

of the moment in our history, 
the subject struck a cord in 
many readers - especially high 
school and college students, 
and Vietnam veterans and 
their families. In Country 
was also made into a film, 
which opened the story up 
to a broader audience. 

The NEA grant helped me 
write the novel, which I did 
for my own artistic reasons. 
I report these unexpected 
benefits that In Country 
brought to the community - 
from the classroom to the 
veterans' group to the 
economy and morale of my 
own hometown - because I 
think they are significant in 
reminding people that what 
may look like self-indulgence 
in its beginnings can turn out 
to have long-reaching, positive 
effects on the culture. 

I wanted to do something that would be rich and .lasting, 
but I never expected it to have such popular appeal and 
tangible social effect. 




In Country 

Sam walked down a dusty lane with her grandfather. She was seeing 
the place her dad knew. She was seeing where her mother lived once 
for a few weeks, where Sam started growing in her belly. Her roots 
were here, and she had been here often enough for the place to be 
familiar, but not enough to really know it. She felt she was seeing it 
for the first time. 

"I remember when Dwayne first brought Irene out here," 
Pap said. "She was just a skinny little squirt like you. Nothing 
embarrassed her. She went around asking me the name of everything. 
She got a kick out of Emma's hen-and-chickens cactuses, said they 
was like pincushions. Imagine that. She picked the biggest bunch of 
flowers. She went back in the fields along the fence rows and picked 
daisies and Queen Anne's lace and black-eyed Susans and I don't 
know what-all. I never would have thought of picking weeds like that. 
She was raised on a farm, so I was surprised she'd thought of picking 

"She always liked flowers," Sam said. They were talking about 
Irene as though she were the one who had died, and when they 
talked about Dwayne they weren't specific. You should always be 
specific, Sam thought. 

"Country kids are just like the city kids now," Pap said. 
"They've got more. And they have cars, so they can go running 
around. Used to, Saturday was when you went to town, but now they 
take off and go any day of the week." 

They talked about Sam's new car for a while, and then Pap 
said, "Everybody always thought it was something that Dwayne 
left us such a gift. When you were born, I remember how proud 
everybody was." He hammered a nail into a fence post. "Everybody 
expected a boy, of course, but we loved you just the same." 

"Everybody wished I was a boy," Sam said, crushing a clover 
head in her hand. "Did you know my daddy picked the name?" 
she asked. "He thought it was in the Bible." 

"No. I didn't know that. Why, you learn something new every 
day. Well, I'll say!" he stroked his chin thoughtfully. 

While her grandfather worked on the fence, Sam walked down 
by the creek. She had remembered some wild goose-plum trees in the 
creek. She found them, but she didn't see any fruit. The trees had 
honeysuckle vines on them. On a vine she saw a large green stinkbug 
with an orange spot and a figure eight on its back. Water striders 
pranced on the shallow pools of clear water in the creek bed. She 
used to call them Jesus bugs because of the way they walked on water. 

She looked around the farm, trying to see it in a new way, trying 
to see what her father had known, the world he knew before he went 
to Vietnam. These were his memories, what he took with him over 
there. She thought she could comprehend it. Everything he knew 
was small and predictable: Jesus bugs, blue mold, hound dogs, fence 
posts. He didn't know about the new consolidated county high 
school, rock video, M*A*S*H. He didn't know her. 

At the house, the dog, outside his pen now, bowed lazily, 
then lay down in a patch of dirt he had dug in the shade near the 
flowerbed. His back was covered with scabs. Sam recognized many 
of the flowers — tall blue stalks, pink droopy flowers, big round 
yellow faces — but she had no names for them. The rosebushes were 
insect-eaten. The lilies had dried up. The August sun was beating 
down. Sam recognized a plant with seed pods forming from some 
of the flowers. She remembered that when they turned brown those 
seed pods would explode, scattering their seeds. She remembered 
the plant's name — touch-me-not. 

"I found that diary," Mamaw called to Sam from the porch. 
"You can have it, but I don't reckon it'll tell you anything. He just 
set down troop movements and weapons and things like that. It's not 
loving, like the letters he wrote back. Those was personal. Irene 
didn't even want this little book, but you can have it if you want it." 

Sam reached for the brown spiral notebook. Mamaw was 
standing on the porch, and Sam was below her on the steps. Sam 
remembered reaching just this way at graduation when the principal 
handed her the rolled diploma. But inside the ribbon was a blank 
piece of paper. The real diplomas were mailed later, because they had 
come too late from the printer. 

Mamaw said, "I remembered that I couldn't even read all of 
it because I couldn't figure out his handwriting, so I don't expect 
it'll tell you anything, but at least you'll have something of his." 
She shooed a cat out the door. "Do you want us to take you out to 
the graveyard later?" Mamaw said. 

"No, not today," Sam said, her eyes on the cat. "I've got to go 


"Paducah. I've got to go to Paducah." 

- Bobbie Ann Mason 


Ernest Gaines 

Ernest Gaines was born and 
raised in Louisiana. He is the 
author of many acclaimed novels, 
including: Of Love and Dust, 
The Autobiography of Miss Jane 
Pittman,A Gathering of Old Men, 
and A Lesson Before Dying which 
received the National Book 
Award. Mr. Gaines has taught 
at workshops around the world. 

When I graduated from San 
Francisco State College in 
1 957, 1 gave myself ten years 
to see if I could make a living 
at writing. During that time 
I wrote five to six hours a day, 
five days a week. I got part- 
time jobs to support myself. 
I worked as a printer's helper 
a few years, then as a postal 
worker. I made just enough 
money to pay the rent for 
a one-room apartment and 
to pay for my meals. During 
those years I received some 
local recognition: a fellowship 
to attend Stanford University 
for a year and the Joseph 
Henry Jackson Award. 
In 1967, my second novel, 
Of Love and Dust, was noticed 
by the national press, and that 
same year I received a grant 
from the NEA. It couldn't 
have happened at a better 
time, because I was beginning 
to have doubts about the 

possibility of becoming a 
writer. Writing was all I 
wanted to do, but I had to 
support myself as well, and 
I was not doing a very good 
job at it. The NEA grant - a 
thousand dollars at that time 
- encouraged me to keep 
writing. I was finally being 
recognized by critics and my 
colleagues. The young writer 
needs that. He needs the 
money, yes - but he also needs 
a little recognition now and 
then to keep pushing himself. 
I know many young very 
talented people who gave up 
out of despair. I feel that 
I was lucky. The recognition 
by the NEA gave me enough 
push to start my next novel, 
The Autobiography of Miss Jane 
Pittman. I have not looked 
back since. 

The recognition by the NEA gave me enough push 
to start my next novel. . . I have not looked back since. 





A Lesson Before Dying 

I took them back down the quarter. When I stopped 
in front of Miss Emma's house, my aunt got out of 
the car with her. 

"I'm going to Bayonne," I told my aunt. 

She had not shut the door yet. 

"I'll be home to cook in a little while," she said. 

"I'll eat in town," I told her. 

Tante Lou held the door while she stood there 
looking at me. Nothing could have hurt her more 
when I said I was not going to eat her food. I was 
supposed to eat soon after she had cooked, and if 
I was not at home I was supposed to eat as soon as 
I came in. She looked at me without saying anything 
else, then she closed the door quietly and followed 
Miss Emma into the yard. 

I turned the car around and started up the 
quarter again. There was not a single telephone in 
the quarter, not a public telephone anywhere that 
I could use before reaching Bayonne, and Bayonne 
was thirteen miles away. 

After leaving the quarter, I drove down a 
graveled road for about two miles, then along a 
paved road beside the St. Charles River for another 
ten miles. There were houses and big live oak and 
pecan trees on either side of the road, but not as 
many on the riverbank side. There, instead of 
houses and trees, there were fishing wharves, boat 
docks, nightclubs, and restaurants for whites. There 
were one or two nightclubs for colored, but they 
were not very good. 

As I drove along the river, I thought about all 
the schoolwork that I should have been doing at 
home. But I knew that after being around Miss 
Emma and Henri Pichot the past hour, I would not 
have been able to concentrate on my work. I needed 
to be with someone. I needed to be with Vivian. 

Bayonne was a small town of about six 
thousand. Approximately three thousand five 
hundred whites; approximately two thousand five 
hundred colored. It was the parish seat for St. 
Raphael. The courthouse was there; so was the jail. 

There was a Catholic church uptown for whites; 
a Catholic church back of town for colored. There 
was a white movie theater uptown; a colored movie 
theater back of town. There were two elementary 
schools uptown, one Catholic, one public, for 
whites; and the same back of town for colored. 
Bayonne's major industries were a cement plant, 
a sawmill, and a slaughterhouse, mosdy for hogs. 
There was only one main street in Bayonne, and 
it ran along the St. Charles River. The department 
stores, the bank, the two or three dentists' and 
doctors' and attorneys' offices, were mostly on this 
street, which made up less than half a dozen blocks. 

After entering the town, which was marked by 
the movie theater for whites on the riverbank side of 
the road, I had to drive another two or three blocks 
before turning down an unlit road, which led back 
of town to the colored section. Once I crossed the 
railroad tracks, I could see the Rainbow Club, with 
its green, yellow, and red arched neon lights. Several 
cars were parked before the door; one of them, a big 
white new '48 Cadillac, belonged to Joe Claiborne, 
who owned the place. A man and a woman came 
through the door as I got out of my car to go inside. 
There were probably a dozen people in the place, 
half of them at the bar, the rest of them sitting at 
tables with white tablecloths. I spoke to Joe 
Claiborne and went through a side door into the cafe 
to use the telephone. The tables in the cafe had 
checkered red and white tablecloths. Thelma ran the 
cafe, and her husband, Joe, ran the bar. I asked her 
what she had for supper. 

"Smothered chicken, smothered beefsteaks, 
shrimp stew," she said. 

There was only one other person in the cafe, 
and he sat at the counter eating the stewed shrimps. 

"Shrimps any good?" I asked Thelma. 

"All my food's good," she said. 

"Shrimps," I told her. 

- Ernest Gaines 


Ira Sad off 

Ira Sadoff is the author of four 
collections of poetry, most 
recently Emotional Traffic, An Ira 
Sadoff Reader, a novel, Uncoupling, 
as well as stories and essays in 
various literary magazines. He 
co-founded the literary magazine 
Seneca Review and served as 
poetry editor of Antioch ReWew. 
Mr. Sadoff teaches at Colby 
College and the MFA program at 
Warren Wilson College. He lives 
in Hallowell, Maine with his wife 
Linda and Casey and Julie. 

The Fellowship gave me the 
time and opportunity to write 
and chronicle my relationship 
to my neighbors and the 
Maine landscape, to give voice 
to other people who lived in 
my community who neither 
had the leisure nor training 
to express in concentrated 
language their plights or fates. 

Additionally, the grant 
authorized me as a poet 
in America and the world: 
poetry does not survive in a 
market economy, especially 
an economy driven by 
international conglomerates 
(virtually all our major 
publishers and bookstores 
are owned by such 
conglomerates). Poetry 
does not respond to the profit 
motive. What it does respond 

to is a world of feeling, some 
recognition that we belong 
to a human community with 
shared experiences. For a 
government to support and 
affirm the art of poetry 
affirms that we care about 
our spiritual welfare as well 
as simply defending ourselves 
against enemies, real or 
imagined. A nation without 
poetry is a nation without 
a soul. 

For a government to support and affirm the art of 
poetry affirms that we care about our spiritual welfare. 
A nation without poetry is a nation without a soul. 



Pemaquid Point 

The lighthouse as an image 
of loneliness has its limits. 

For as we stand on the shore 
of this ocean, the crusted snow 

on the granite hills and grass 
disguised beneath it, that tower 

seems a place where people gather 
some vision of themselves: the marriage 

of rock to water, of wave to snail 
washed up on shore. We're small, 

and waving to the lobster boat — 
which could be miles away or close 

enough to raise our voices to — makes 
us wish our journeys took us further, 

past witness, to a scene where 
we belonged. A man in blue 

pulls up his net: tiny fish 
swim free of it. And the man 

pulling anchor, whose strength 
tugs him farther from the shore, 

pays tribute to our rootlessness. 
As he shouts to start the engine up, 

to take his course, he leaves us 
in the distance, the repeated ritual 

of his wake. And like the water 
stirred against the lighthouse wall, 

breaking up, wave after wave, we 
forget ourselves. Learn our place. 

- Ira S a doff 


Linda Pastan 

Linda Pastan has published nine 
volumes of poetry, most recently 
Heroes In Disguise and An Early 
Afterlife. She has been a finalist for 
the National Book Award and for 
the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. 
From 1 99 1 -95, she was Poet 
Laureate of Maryland and was 
on the staff of the Bread Loaf 
Writers' Conference for 20 years. 
Carnival Evening: New and Selected 
Poems, 1968-1998 is due from 
Norton in the Spring of 1998. 

I received my grant in the 
1 970s, when the NEA and I 
were both relatively young. 
It wasn't for a lot of money 
then, though the dollar did go 
farther than it does today - 
but not that far. It did, 
however, pay for enough child 
care to get me through a lot 
of drafts of a lot of poems. 
More important, at a time 
when my writing life seemed 
almost subversive, it lent 
credibility to my claim that 
I was a writer, not just to 
doubting friends and family 
but more crucially to myself. 
The mere fact of having been 
chosen helped give me the 
courage to continue with my 
work at times of grave self 
doubt. In fact it still does. 

. . .having been chosen [for a grant] helped 
give me the courage to continue with my work 
at times of grave self doubt. 



To a Daughter Leaving Home 

When I taught you 

at eight to ride 

a bicycle, loping along 

beside you 

as you wobbled away 

on two round wheels, 

my own mouth rounding 

in surprise when you pulled 

ahead down the curved 

path of the park, 

I kept waiting 

for the thud 

of your crash as I 

sprinted to catch up, 

while you grew 

smaller, more breakable 

with distance, 

pumping, pumping 

for your life, screaming 

with laughter, 

the hair flapping 

behind you like a 

handkerchief waving 


- Linda Pastan 


Linda Gregg 

Linda Gregg was born in 
Suffern, New York. She grew 
up in northern California - 
in the country. Her books of 
poetry include Too Bright to See, 
Alma, The Sacraments of Desire, 
and Chosen by the Lion. She 
has received a Guggenheim 
Fellowship, a Whiting Writer's 
Award, and five Pushcart Prizes. 
Ms. Gregg has taught at the 
University of Iowa, the University 
of Houston and others. She is 
in the woods of Massachusetts 
trying to finish her new book in 
time to teach at the University of 
California, Berkeley in the fall. 

The NEA did many things 
for me as I'm sure it has for 
other artists. Simply being 
acknowledged as a serious 
writer by the government of 
our country is a wonderful 
thing to do for anyone in the 
creative arts. Of course, one 
of the best things that the 
NEA grants have done is to 
allow the time to produce 
the work. In my case it was 
especially important because 
it enabled me to write 
Chosen by the Lion, which is 
the best book I've ever done. 

Simply being acknowledged as a serious writer by the 
government of our country is a wonderful thing. . . 



To Be Here 

The February road to the river is mud 
and dirty snow, tire tracks and corncobs 
uncovered by the mildness. I think I am 
living alone and that I am not afraid. 
Love is those birds working hard at flying 
over the mountain going somewhere else. 
Fidelity is always about what we have 
already lived. I am happy, kicking snow. 
The trees are the ones to honor. The trees 
and the broken corn. And the clear sky 
that looks like rain is falling through it. 
Not a pretty spring, but the real thing. 
The old weeds and the old vegetables. 
Winter's graceful severity melting away. 
I don't think the dead will speak. 
I think they are happy just to be here. 
If they did, I imagine them saying 
birds flying, twigs, water reflecting. 
There is only this. Dead weeds waiting 
uncovered to the quiet soft day. 

- Linda Gregg 


Philip Levine 

Philip Levine is a poet of many 
honors. His volume The Simple 
Truth won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. 
Among his many titles are 
They Feed They Lion, the award- 
winning Ashes and SevenYears 
From Somewhere. He also has 
written The Bread ofTime: 
Toward an Autobiography. 

For many years, he taught writing 
and English at several universities. 
He is one of three poets featured 
on the Internet Poetry Archive 
index.html) where you can hear 
him read some of his work. 

Over the years I've received 
three grants from the NEA. 
The first one in 1976, meant 
the most to me. I had been 
teaching a very heavy load 
at California State University 
at Fresno, and found it 
increasingly difficult both 
to teach properly and get 
my writing done. I had just 
published my seventh book 
of poems, The Names of the 
Lost, which was nominated 
for the National Book Critics 
Circle Award and won the 
Lenore Marshall Award. 

I took an entire year off 
teaching and travelled to 
Spain in order to revive my 
sense of the landscape and 
the spiritual, cultural, and 
political history. Inspired, I 
returned to Fresno and wrote 
most of the poems that made 
up the two books published 
in '79: Ashes and Seven Years 
from Somewhere. These books 
brought me the National 
Book Critics Circle Award and 
the National Book Award. 

The grant in '81 allowed me 
to move to New York City 
where I was able to focus on 
a poem involving my early 
years both in that city and 
the city of my birth, Detroit. 
In a rented loft on the lower 
West Side, I was able to bring 
all that material together in 
my poem, "Poem With No 
Ending," the centerpiece of 
my book Sweet Will. The '87 
grant gave me the resources 
to return to Detroit in order 
to research the poem, 
"A Walk with Tom Jefferson," 
the longest and best poem 
I've ever written. 

Had such grants existed 
when I was in my 30s and 
early 40s and teaching too 
much and writing too little, 
there's no knowing how much 
more I might have written, 
but I thank my good fortune 
that they arrived in time to 
help me become, for better 
or worse, the poet I have 

The '87 grant gave me the resources to return to Detroit in 
order to research the. . . longest and best poem I've ever written. 



You Can Have It 

My brother comes home from work 
and climbs the stairs to our room. 
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop 
one by one. You can have it, he says. 

The moonlight streams in the window 
and his unshaven face is whitened 
like the face of the moon. He will sleep 
long after noon and waken to find me gone. 

Thirty years will pass before I remember 
that moment when suddenly I knew each man 
has one brother who dies when he sleeps 
and sleeps when he rises to face this life, 

and that together they are only one man 
sharing a heart that always labors, hands 
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps 
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it? 

All night at the ice plant he had fed 
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I 
stacked cases of orange soda for the children 
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time 


with always two more waiting. We were twenty 

for such a short time and always in 

the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt 

and sweat. I think now we were never twenty. 

In 1948 in the city of Detroit, founded 

by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes 

of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died, 

no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace, 

for there was no such year, and now 
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers, 
calendars, doctors' appointments, bonds, 
wedding certificates, drivers licenses. 

The city slept. The snow turned to ice. 
The ice to standing pools or rivers 
racing in the gutters. Then bright grass rose 
between the thousands of cracked squares, 

and that grass died. I give you back 1948. 
I give you all the years from then 
to the coming one. Give me back the moon 
with its frail light falling across a face. 

Give me back my young brother, hard 
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse 
for God and burning eyes that look upon 
all creation and say, You can have it. 

Philip Levine 


David Mura 

David Mura is a poet, creative 
nonfiction writer, critic, playwright 
and performance artist. A Sansei 
or third generation Japanese 
American, Mura is the author of 
Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a 
Sansei, listed in the New York Times 
1 99 1 Notable Books of Year. 
Mura's new memoir, Where the 
Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey 
of Race, Sexuality and Identity, was 
published in May 1996. His most 
recent book of poetry is The Colors 
of Desire, which won the Carl 
Sandburg Literary Award. His 
first book of poetry, After We Lost 
Our Way, won the 1989 National 
Poetry Series Contest. Mura is 
the Artistic Director of the Asian 
American Renaissance, an Asian 
American arts organization in 
Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis 
with his wife, Susan Spencer, 
a pediatric oncologist, and his 
three children Samantha, Nikko 

"I can't go on. I'll go on." 
So says one of the characters 
in Beckett's Waiting for Godot. 
This seems to me both a 
statement about life in 
general and about writing 
in particular. 

In the beginning, when a 
writer has few credentials, he 
or she hears loudly the stern 
warning, "It is impossible" or 
"You can't go on." My NEA 
Fellowship came at a crucial 
time in my career, when I was 
in the process of becoming 
a memoir writer as well as 
a poet, when I was making 
a leap from a familiar to an 
unfamiliar genre. It brought 
me crucial time to work both 
on my poetry and on the 
beginnings of Turning Japanese, 
a book about my year-long 
stay in Japan and my new 
understanding and acceptance 
of my identity and heritage 
as a Japanese American. 

But more than time to write, 
the fellowship offered me 
encouragement, a recognition 
that I was not deluding myself 
with my pursuit of writing. 
I feel I've been able to add 
to the literature of America 
a new body of work that 
reflects the stories and 
concerns of my community 
and family, material that 
was not part of my education 
and which is still neglected 
in the mass media with its 
homogenized portraits of who 
we are. The NEA fellowship 
was not only for myself but 
for my community of 
Japanese Americans and 
Asian Americans, for the 
stories within us that still 
need to be told. 

The NEA fellowship was not only for myself but for my 
community of Japanese Americans and Asian Americans, 
for the stories within us that still need to be told. 




Turning Japanese 

I am a Sansei, a third-generation Japanese-American. 
In 1984, through luck and through some skills as a 
poet, I traveled to Japan. My reasons for going were 
not very clear. 

At the time, I'd been working as an arts 
administrator in the Writers-in-the-Schools program, 
sending other writers to grade schools and high 
schools throughout Minnesota. It wasn't taxing, but 
it didn't provide the long stretches needed to plunge 
into my own work. I had applied for a U.S. /Japan 
Creative Artist Exchange Fellowship mainly because 
I wanted time to write. 

Japan? That was where my grandparents came 
from, it didn't have much to do with my present life. 

But then Japan had never seemed important to 
me, even in childhood. On holidays when we would 
get together with relatives, I didn't notice that the 
faces around me looked different from most of the 
faces at school. I didn't notice that my grandfathers 
were in Japan, my grandmothers dead. No one spoke 
about them, just as no one spoke about Japan. We 
were American. It was the Fourth of July, Labor Day, 
Christmas. All I noticed was that the food we ate — 
futomaki, mazegohan, teriyaki, kamaboko — was 
different from what I liked best — McDonald's, 
pizza, hot dogs, tuna-fish salad. 

For me Japan was cheap baseballs, Godzilla, 
weird sci-fi movies like Star Man, where you could 
see the strings that pulled him above his enemies, 
flying in front of a backdrop so poorly made even I, 
at eight, was conscious of the fakery. Then there were 
the endless hordes storming G.I.'s in war movies. 

Sometimes the Japanese hordes got mixed up in my 
mind with the Koreans, tiny Asians with squinty 
eyes mowed down in row after row by the steady 
shots of John Wayne or Richard Widmark. Before 
the television set, wearing my ever-present Cubs 
cap, I crouched near the sofa, saw the enemy 
surrounding me. I shouted to my men, hurled a 
grenade. I fired my gun. And the Japanese soldiers 
fell before me, one by one. 

Of course, by the eighties, I was aware, as 
everyone else was, of Japan's burgeoning power, 
its changing image — Toyota, Nissan, Sony, 
Toshiba, the economic, electronic, automotive 
miracle. Rather than savage barbarism the Japanese 
were now characterized by a frightening efficiency 
and a tireless energy. Japan was a monster of 
industrialization, of huge, world-hungry corpora- 
tions. Unfair trade practices, the trade imbalance. 
Robot people. 

But none of this had much to do with me. 
After all, I was a poet. 

- David Mura 


Richard Ford 

Richard Ford was born in Jackson, 
Mississippi in 1944 and attended 
public school there until he 
entered college in Michigan in 
1962. His first novel, A Piece of 
My Heart, was published in 1976. 
Since then he has published six 
books of fiction, including novels 
and stories, as well as many 
essays. His novel Independence Day 
won both the 1996 Pulitzer Prize 
for Fiction and the PEN Faulkner 
Award. His most recent book of 
stories, Women With Men, was 
published in 1997. He is married 
to Kristina Ford and lives both 
in New Orleans and in Chinook, 

I've been lucky enough to get 
two NEA Fellowships, one in 
the seventies and one in the 
eighties, and I'm sure my 
quota is up. But the first was 
the most, I'm supposed to say, 
profound. I'd been ducking 
regular employment, trying 
to keep my writing on track, 
and basically being funded by 
my wife. The fellowship kept 
me free from what is 
misinterpreted to be "honest 
work" - work for somebody 
else. I wrote a novel during 
the year of the Fellowship, 
and the money helped my 
wife quit her job and begin 
thinking of something better 
to do. What the Fellowship 
"meant," or at least seemed 
to mean, apart from these 
quite practical concerns, was 
that the great numbers game 
which young writers often 
obsess over (I actually didn't, 
though I was aware of it) was 

not always destined to play 
out against me. It meant the 
world outside my room (I was 
living in New Jersey at the 
time) wasn't indifferent to 
what I was writing; that I 
had a chance, and wasn't 
necessarily wasting my time. 
I've always thought that 
writing success is measured 
by readers, and so here were 
some readers who thought 
I was okay. Beyond that, 
being quirkily patriotic, I also 
thought it was neat that "the 
government" deemed my 
work worthwhile. I must have, 
in fact, French blood in me 
because I did and still do think 
that the collective body of a 
country's artistic. efforts (even 
novelists' efforts) comprises 
a worthwhile contribution to 
the nation's well-being. 

It meant the world outside my room wasn't indifferent 
to what I was writing. . . 



• ~## 


My Mother, In Memory 

After that the life that would take us to the end began. 
A fragmented, truncated life of visits long and short. 
Letters. Phone calls. Telegrams. Meetings in cities 
away from home. Conversations in cars, in airports, 
train stations. Efforts to see each other. Leaving 
dominated eveiything — my growing older, and hers, 
observed from varying distances. 

She held out alone in Mississippi for a year, 
moved back into the house on Congress Street. She 
rented out the other side, worked at the hospital, 
where for a time, I think, the whole new life she'd 
been handed worked out, came together. I am 
speculating, as you can believe, because I was gone. 
But at least she said she liked her job, liked the young 
interns at the hospital, liked the drama of the ER, 
liked working even. It may have started to seem 
satisfactory enough that I was away. It may have 
seemed to her that there was a life to lead. That under 
the circumstances she had done reasonably well with 
things; could ease up, let events happen without 
fearing the worst. One bad thing did finally turn into 
something less bad. 

This, at least, is what I wanted to think. How 
a son feels about his widowed mother when he is far 
away becomes an involved business. But it is not 
oversimplifying to say that he wants good to come to 
her. In all these years, the years of fragmented life 
with my mother, I was aware that things would never 
be completely right with her again. Partly it was a 
matter of her choosing; partly it was a matter of her 
own character — of just how she could see her life 

without my father, with him gone and so much life 
left to be lived in an unideal way. Always she was 
resigned somewhere down deep. I could never 
plumb her without coming to stop point — a point 
where expectation simply ceased. This is not to say 
she was unhappy after enough time had passed. Or 
that she never laughed. Or that she didn't see life as 
life, didn't regain and enjoy herself. All those she 
did. Only, not utterly, not in a way a mother, any 
mother, could disguise to her only son who loved 
her. I always saw that. Always felt it. Always felt her 

— what? — discomfort at life? Her resisting it? 
Always wished she could relent more than she 
apparently could; since in most ways my own life 
seemed to spirit ahead, and I did not like it that hers 
didn't. From almost the first I felt that my father's 
death surrendered to me at least as much as it took 
away. It gave me my life to live by my own designs, 
gave me my own decisions. A boy could do worse 
than to lose his father — a good father, at that — just 
when the world begins to display itself all around 

- Richard Ford 


MonaVan Duyn 

MonaVan Duyn, the author of 
nine books of poetry, has won 
the National Book Award, the 
Bollingen Prize and the Pulitzer 
Prize. She is a member of the 
Academy of Arts and Letters, 
the Academy of Arts and Sciences, 
and is a Chancellor of the Academy 
of American Poets. In 1992-93, 
she was Poet Laureate of the 
United States. She lives in St. Louis. 

The NEA grant made 
it possible for me to 
concentrate imaginative 
energy on writing without 
teaching for a time. It was 
also, importantly, a sign of 
respect for my work among 
the poetry readers and 
writers of my country. 

The NEA grant made it possible for me to 
concentrate imaginative energy on writing. 



Notes from a Suburban Heart 

Freud says that ideas are libidinal cathexes, 
that is to say, acts of love. 

- Norman 0. Brown 

It's time to put fertilizer on the grass again. 

The last time I bought it, the stuff was smelly and black, 

and said "made from Philadelphia sewage" on the sack. 

It's true that the grass shot up in a violent green, 

but my grass-roots patriotism tells me to stick 

to St. Louis sewage, and if the Mississippi isn't thick 

enough to put in a bag and spread on a lawn, 

I'll sprinkle 5-10-5 from nobody's home, 

that is to say... 

it's been a long winter. The new feeder scared off the birds 

for the first month it was up. Those stupid starvelings, 

puffed up like popcorn against the cold, thought the thing 

was a death-trap. The seeds and suet on its boards 

go down their gullets now, and come out song, 

but scot-free bugs slit up the garden. It is spring. 

I've "made bums out of the birdies," in my next-door neighbor's 


that is to say... 

your life is as much a mystery to me as ever. 

The dog pretends to bite fleas out of sheer boredom, 

and not even the daffodils know if it's safe to come 

up for air in this crazy, hot-and-cold weather. 

Recognitions are shy, the faintest tint of skin 

that says we are opening up, is it the same 

as it was last year? Who can remember that either? 

That is to say, 

I love you, in my dim-witted way. 

- Mona Van Duyn 



William Kittredge 

William Kittredge grew up on 
the MC Ranch in southeastern 
Oregon, farmed until he was 35, 
studied at the Writer's Workshop 
at the University of Iowa, and has 
just retired as Professor of English 
and Creative Writing at the 
University of Montana. Kittredge 
has held a Stegner Fellowship at 
Stanford ( 1 973-74) and received 
two Pacific Northwest Bookseller's 
Awards for Excellence (1984,1987), 
the Montana Governor's Award 
for the Arts in 1 986, and the PEN 
West Award for nonfictional book 
of the year in 1 992. In October, 
1 994, Kittredge was presented 
with the National Endowment for 
the Humanities' Charles Frankel 
Prize for service to the humanities. 
Published widely in national 
magazines, Kittredge co-authored 

the nine novels in the Cord series 
of Westerns, published two 
collections of short stories, The 
Van Gogh Field and Other Stories 
and We Are Not InThisTogether, 
as well as a collection of essays, 
Owning It All. He was co-editor 
of The Last Best Place.A Montana 
Anthology and co-producer of 
the film A River Runs Through It. 
His memoir, Hole in the Sky, was 
published in 1992 by Knopf. 
A book of essays, Who Owns the 
West, was published by Mercury 
House in 1996, and The Portable 
Western Reader will be published 
by Viking/Penguin in the summer 
of 1997. 

In my early 30s, during the 
mid- 1 960s, working as a ranch 
foreman in the Great Basin 
desert country of southeastern 
Oregon, I began trying to 
write. I wanted to write 
because I saw that as a way 
to have a significant life, by 
which I mean make my work 
into a gift, just as books I 
revered had been gifts to me, 
helping me define myself and 
my values. 

But a decade later, I was still 
enormously unsure of myself, 
floundering and thinking about 
giving it up, when I got a grant 
from the National Endowment 
for the Arts, a gift of time 
to work. The grant, as I 
understood it, was a vote of 
confidence, given me freely 
by other writers. As a direct 
result, I've kept working and 
continue to work, almost 
every day. Whatever I've 
accomplished proceeds in 
a quite clear line from that 
first grant. It was, for me, for 
these reasons, invaluable. 

Whatever I've accomplished proceeds in 
a quite clear line from that first grant. 




The Politics of Storytelling 

The poet C.K. Williams came to Missoula some 
years ago and spoke of "narrative dysfunction" as a 
prime part of mental illness in our time. Many of us, 
he said, lose track of the story of ourselves, the story 
which tells us who we are supposed to be and how 
we are supposed to act. 

It isn't any fun, and doesn't just happen to 
people, it happens to entire societies. Stories are 
places to live, inside the imagination. We know a lot 
of them, and we're in trouble when we don't know 
which one is ours. Or when the one we inhabit 
doesn't work anymore, and we stick with it anyway. 

We live in stories. What we are is stories. We do 
things because of what is called character, and our 
character is formed by the stories we learn to live in. 
Late in the night we listen to our own breathing in 
the dark, and rework our stories. We do it again the 
next morning, and all day long, before the looking 
glass of ourselves, reinventing reasons for our lives. 
Other than such storytelling there is no reason to 

Aristotle talks of "recognitions," which can 
be thought of as moments of insight or flashes 
of understanding in which we see through to 
coherencies in the world. We are all continually 
seeking after such experiences. It's the most com- 
monplace thing human beings do after breathing. We 
are like detectives, each of us trying to make sense 
and define what we take to be the right life. It is the 
primary, most incessant business of our lives. 

We figure and find stories, which can be 
thought of as maps or paradigms in which we see our 
purposes defined; then the world drifts and our 
maps don't work anymore, our paradigms and 
stories fail, and we have to reinvent our understand- 
ings, and our reasons for doing things. Useful 
stories, I think, are radical in that they help us see 
freshly. They are like mirrors, in which we see 
ourselves reflected. That's what stories are for, to 
help us see for ourselves as we go about the continual 
business of reimagining ourselves. 

If we ignore the changing world, and stick to 
some story too long, we are likely to find ourselves in 
a great wreck. It's happening all over the West, right 
now, as so many of our neighbors attempt to live out 
rules derived from old models of society which 
simply reconfirm their prejudices. 

They see what they want to see. Which is some 
consolation. But it is not consolation we need. We 
need direction. 

The interior West is no longer a faraway land. 
Our great emptiness is filling with people, and we 
are experiencing a time of profound transition, 
which can be thought of as the second colonization. 
Many are being reduced to the tourist business, in 
which locals feature as servants, hunting guides, and 
motel maids, or local color. People want to enclose 
our lives in theirs, as decor. 

The Native American people were living 
coherent lives, at one with their circumstances, 
when our people displaced them, leaving them 
mostly disenfranchised and cut off from the 
possibility in our society, their reservations like 
little beleaguered nations battling to survive in our 
larger one as we condnue wrecking the traditional 
resources of their cultures. The result, for them, 
is anomie, nothing to hang on to, powerlessness. 
We are shamed and look away, and do little to help. 

So it is deeply ironic that the Native Americans 
are being joined in their disenfranchisement by 
loggers and miners and ranchers, and the towns 
which depend on them. Our ancestors came to the 
West and made homes for themselves, where they 
could live independent lives. Because of their 
sacrifices, we in the dominant society think we own 
the West, we think they earned it for us. But, as we 
know, nobody owns anything absolutely, except their 
sense of who they are. 

- William Kittredge 


Ron Hansen 

Ron Hansen grew up in Omaha. 
Nebraska and was educated 
at Creighton University, the 
University of Iowa's Writers 
Workshop, and Stanford 
University, where he held a 
Wallace Stegner Creative Writing 
Fellowship. In addition to his short 
story collection, Nebraska, he has 
written the novels Desperadoes, 
The Assassination of Jesse James by 
the Coward Robert Ford, Mariette 
in Ecstasy, and most recently, 
Atticus. which was a finalist for 
the National Book Award and the 
PEN/Faulkner Award in Fiction. 
He is presently the Gerard Manley 
Hopkins, S.J. Professor in the Arts 
and Humanities at Santa Clara 

I have been awarded two 
National Endowment for the 
Arts Literature Fellowships. 
The honor was good for my 
spirits, but more importantly, 
the funds really made a 
difference, for though my 
fiction writing was earning 
praise, I was still quite poor, 
and the hard and continuing 
effort to make ends meet 
was interfering with my 
production. With the help of 
those two fellowships, I was 
able to complete two books, 
The Assassination of Jesse James 
by the Coward Robert Ford, 
which was nominated for 
the PEN/Faulkner Award 
in Fiction, and a book of 
stories called Nebraska, 
for which I won an award 
in literature from the 
American Academy and 
Institute of Arts and Letters. 

The honor was good for my spirits, but more importantly, 
the funds really made a difference, . . 




" : 


Everyone is famous in this town. And everyc 
necessary. Townspeople go to the Vaughn Grocery 
Store for the daily news, and to the Home Restau- 
rant for history class, especially an evensong when 
the old people eat graveled pot roast and lemon 
meringue pie and calmly sip coffee from cups ti 
dp to their mouths with both hands. The Kiwanis 
Club meets here on Tuesday nights, and hopes are 
made public, petty sins are ridily dispatched, and 
the proceeds from the gumball machine are tallied 
up and poured into the upkeep of a playground. 
Yutesler's Hardware has picnic items and kitchen 
appliances in its one window, in the manner of those 
prosperous men who would prefer to be known 
for their hobbies. And there is one crisp, w; 
Protestant church with a steeple, of the sort pictured 
on calendars: and the Immaculate Conception 
Catholic Church, gravlv holding the town at bav 


like a Gothic wolfhound. And there is an insurance 
agency, a county coroner and justice of the peace, a 
secondhand shop, a handsome chiropractor named 
Koch who coaches the Pony League baseball team. 
a post office approached on unpainted wood steps 

:de of a cheap mobile home, the Nighthawk 
tavern where there's Falstaff up beer, a green pool 
table, a poster recording the Comhuskers score • 
crazy man patiently tolerated, a gray-haired woman 
with an unmoored eye. a boy in spectacles thick as 
paperweights, a carpenter missing one index finger, 
a plump waitress whose day job is in a basement 
beautv shop, an old woman who creeps up to the 
side door at eight in order to purchase one shot glass 

.And yet passing by. and paying attention, an 
outsider is onh" aware of what isn't, that there's no 
bookshop, no picture show, no pharmacy or dry- 
cleaners, no cocktail parties, extreme opinions, 
jewelry or piano stores, motels, hotels, hospital, 
political headquarters, philosophical theories about 
Being and the soul. 

High importance is only attached to 
practicalities, and so there is the Batchelor Funeral 
Home, where a proud old gendeman is on display- 
in a dark brown suit, his yellow fingernails finally 
clean. his smeared evt » his coat pocket, 

a grandchild on tiptoes by the casket, peering at the 
lips that will not move, the spar: I that will 

not rise. .And there's Tommy Seymour's for Sinclair 
gasoline and mechanical repair? . balloon 
dinosaur bobbing from a string over the cash 

_ :er. old tires piled beneath the cottonw ood. 
For Sale in the sideyard a Case tractor, a John D; 
reaper, a hay mower, a red manure spreader, and a 
rusty grain conve oming them, 

standing up inside them, trying slyly and lirde by 
litde to inherit machinery for the earth. 

And beyond that are woods, a slope of pasture, 
rnprv catde pens, a driveway made of limestone 
pebbles, and the house where Alic ; 
through a child's World Book Encyclopedia, 
stopping at the descriptions of California. Capet 
Ceylon. Colorado. Copenhagen. Corpus Christi. 
ta Rica. Cyprus. 

^Idow Dworak had been watering the lawn 
in an open raincoat and apron, but at nine she walks 
the green hose around to the spigot anc 
down the nozzle so that the spray is a n - ;al 

bowl softiy baptizing the ivy. She says. "How about 
some camomile tea? - And she savs. "Yum. Oh. boy. 
That hits the spot." .And bends to shut the water off. 

The Union Pacific night train rolls through 
town just after ten o'clock when a sixty-vear-old man 
named Adolf Schooley is a boy again in bed. and 
when the huge weight of forty or fifty- cars josdes his 
upstairs room like a motor he'd put a quarter in. 
.And over the sighing industry of the train, he can 
hear the train saying Xebrask-a. .\<braska. \(braska. 
.And he cannot sleep. 

- Ron Hansen 


Teresa Jordan 

the memoir. Riding the White Horse 
-:~r i- 1 Zz'-z'i •••:— e* :':e 
-•":• ::- I'.en r: s-e "u e:':e: 
:•■■ : i--.- : :z =: :-' .'.es:e~ 
women's writing. She lives on a 
small ranch in northern Nevada 
with her husband. foNdorist 
Hall Cannon, and is currently 
at work on a novel. Steeping with 
ft -.- - : : 

My NEA Literature fellowship 
gave me breathing space, a 
chance to step back from the 
day-to-day necessity of earning 
a living and experiment. Up 
to that point, I had written 
primarily nonaction. During 
my NEA year, I wrote fiction. 
By the end of it, a cast of 
characters had walked into my 
life and peopled an imaginary 
place. My first novel. Sleeping 
with the Animals, was well on 
its way. 

My NEA Literature fellowship gave me breathing space, 
a chance to step back from the day-to-day necessity of 
earning a living and experiment 




Old Anne 

the arm that hadrTt healed right would not bend 

to hold a hairbrush. "Hack it off!" 

Old Anne said of her braid, that braid like blood 

flung from the heart, so long a part of her, 

that thick grey snake slung heavy down her back. 

Young Charlotte, wide-eyed Charlotte, stroked the shears, 

reached out her hand to touch the braid, drew back — 

"Please, child," Anne said, "don't be afraid to help me." 

So Charlotte cut, and Old Anne closed her grey 

sun-tired eyes. The hacking made her think 

of falling, the colt falling, rain-soaked limestone soil 

slick as oil — slicker — and a boulder held 

cut jagged at the bottom of the hill. 

The heavy braid hung loosely now by just a few thin strands: 

The scissors sawed one last time through, it fell. 

The soft thud she remembered just before 

she woke, before the pain set in: the young horse, 

stunned on top of her, had just begun to twitch. 

- Teresa Jordan 


Maxine Kumin 

Maxine Kumin has published 
I I books of poems, four novels, 
a collection of short stories, and 
three collections of essays. She 
won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 
for her fourth book, Up Country. 
Looking for Luck won the Poets' 
Prize in 1994 and was a finalist 
for the National Book Critics 
Circle Award that year. Now a 
Chancellor of the Academy of 
American Poets, Kumin was a 
Consultant in Poetry to the 
Library of Congress in 1 980-8 1 . 
She has taught at a number of 
universities, including Princeton, 
Columbia and MIT and is the 
McGee Professor of Writing at 
Davidson College in the Spring of 
1997. Kumin lives on a farm in 
New Hampshire where she and 
her husband raise horses and 

Winning a National Council 
on the Arts Fellowship in 1967 
was a rich affirming moment 
in my life. It said that I was 
indeed a writer, not merely 
a self-proclaimed one, and 
it gave me the courage to 
persist as a poet in a climate 
that was not hugely 
welcoming to women poets. 

[The fellowship] gave me the courage to 
persist as a poet in a climate that was not 
hugely welcoming to women poets. 




I eat these 

wild red raspberries 

still warm from the sun 

and smelling faintly of jewelweed 

in memory of my father 

tucking the napkin 
under his chin and bending 
over an ironstone bowl 
of the bright drupelets 
awash in cream 

my father 

with the sigh of a man 

who has seen all and been redeemed 

said time after time 

as he lifted his spoon 

men kill for this. 
- Maxine Kumin 


Robert Pinsky 

Robert Pinsky grew up in the 
New Jersey coastal town of Long 
Branch. His books include The 
Want Bone, History of My Heart 
(awarded the William Carlos 
Williams Prize of the Poetry 
Society of America), and An 
Explanation of America. He teaches 
in Boston University's graduate 
writing program. His translation of 
The Inferno of Dante was awarded 
the Landon Translation Prize and 
The Los Angeles Times Book Award 
in poetry for 1995. His The Figured 
Wheel: New and Collected Poems 
was published by Farrar, Straus 
& Giroux in Spring, 1996. His - 
collection of essays, Poetry and 
the World, was nominated for 
the National Book Critics Circle 
Award in criticism. In the fall of 
1997, he will begin his term as 
the U.S. Poet Laureate. 

My NEA grant gave me 
practical help and 
encouragement at a time 
when I needed it, with 
small children, teaching 
responsibilities, and the 
struggle to write. A perhaps 
neglected virtue of these 
grants is the encouragement 
they give many of us in our 
humanistic work aside from 
writing; I think I was made a 
better teacher and a more 
devoted teacher of students 
who were or became 
teachers, because I was 
confirmed by the NEA grant 
in my devotion to the project 
of art. However good our 
writing is or is not, we labor 
to keep a certain light alive. 

I think I was made a better teacher. . . 
because I was confirmed by the NEA grant 
in my devotion to the project of art. 




The Street Of Furthest Memory 

The street flails 

old substances, a chaff 

of felt, beaver-board 

slate shingles, tarpaper — plain 
or made to resemble masonry 
and brick — , oilcloth, sharkskin. 

In a film of rain, the street 
shines. Luncheonette, 
lot, shoemaker, 

They get clearer 

in the rain, a spring rain 

patched with sun, 

the bright drops on glass, 
on awnings of canvas, on cars 
moving down the street 

as the awnings flap, 
flickering like a torn 
film, coupe and sedan passing 

to beyond your earliest 
memory, on the street 
out of memory, the sweet 

street flailing its 

lost substances, tangling 

off as though thrown 

from the spinning black 
reel, unthreading rapidly, like 
panic flailing the street. 

- Robert Pinsky 


Joy Harjo 

Joy Harjo is a poet, writer, 
essayist, teacher, and saxophonist 
with the jazz band Poetic Justice 
which has just issued a new CD, 
"Letter from the End of the 
21st Century." Her most recent 
collection is TheWomenWho 
Fell From the Sky. She is also the 
author of The Spiral of Memory: 
Interviews, and has a forthcoming 
anthology of Native women's 
writing of North America to be 
published by Norton next Spring. 
She has won the Academy of 
American Poets Award, the 
Josephine Miles Award for Poetry, 
and the William Carlos Williams 
Award from the Poetry Society 
of America. Joy Harjo lives in 
New Mexico. 

When ] received my first 
NEA fellowship for poetry, 
I was a single parent with two 
children who were four and 
nine years old, and I had just 
graduated from the Iowa 
Writers' Workshop. I had 
published a chapbook as 
an undergraduate at the 
University of New Mexico 
and while a graduate student 
had completed a manuscript 
that would soon by published 
by I. Reed Books. I did not 
have a job waiting me upon 
graduation, and as far as I 
knew, I would have to resort 
to waitressing or working in 
a hospital when I returned to 
New Mexico. 

Though I was fueled on pure 
faith and bravado, I wasn't 
sure how I'd pull it off this 
time. Maybe I had just made 
up a life that included a reach 
toward something no one in 
my immediate family either 
understood or recognized. 
My mother was a cook, my 
father worked as a sheet- 
metal worker. 

The awarding of the NEA 
grant came at this crucial 
time. It gave me faith to 
continue, as well as a 
paycheck of sorts to write 
until I secured a job (which I 
did, teaching creative writing 
at the Institute of American 
Indian Arts). With the time 
the grant bought, I was able 
to buy childcare, pay rent and 
utilities, and my car payments 
while I wrote what would 
be most of my second book 
of poetry, She Had Some 
Horses, the collection that 
actually started my career. 
The grant began the 
momentum that has carried 
me through these years. 
I can now call myself a poet. 

My mother is still waiting 
for me to write a "real" book. 
My father has since died, but 
his family now thinks poetry 
makes all the sense in the 

The grant began the momentum that has carried me 
through these years. I can now call myself a poet. 




Perhaps The World Ends Here 

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat 
to live. 

The gifts of the earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it 
has been since creation, and it will go on. 

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the cor- 
ners. They scrape their knees under it. 

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be 
human. We make men at it, we make women. 

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers. 

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our 
children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as 
we put ourselves back together once again at the table. 

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun. 

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the 
shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory. 

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for 
burial here. 

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering 
and remorse. We give thanks. 

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing 
and crying, eating of the last sweet bite. 

- Joy Harjo 


Paul Auster 

Paul Auster is a novelist, essayist, 
poet, and translator. His novels 
include The Music of Chance, 
which was nominated for the 
1991 PEN/Faulkner Award, Moon 
Palace, In the Country of Last Things, 
Mr.Vertigo, and the three novels 
known as The NewYorkTrilogy. 
He has also written a memoir, 
The Invention of Solitude; a 
collection of essays, The Art of 
Hunger, and a volume of poems, 
Disappearances. Mr. Auster also 
wrote the screenplay for the 
movie Smoke. He has a new book 
coming out in the fall of 1997. 

Both grants made an enormous 
difference, relieving me of 
intense financial pressures and 
giving me time to do the work 
I had in me to do.The money 
took care of my most basic 
needs (food, rent), and 
suddenly, for the first time in 
my life, I had some breathing 
room, a chance to hunker down 
and write without worrying 
how I was going to pay that 
month's bills. The second grant 
allowed me to finish City of 
Glass (the first volume of my 
NewYorkTrilogy), and I mark 
that year as a turning point in 
my progress as a writer. The 
Endowment's help was crucial - 
a rope thrown to a drowning 
man - and I am forever 
thankful to the good people 
who rescued me. 

'"\ . .the years have taught me this: if there's a 
pencil in your pocket, there's a good chance that 
one day you'll feel tempted to start using it." 




Why Write? 

I was eight years old. At that moment in my life, 
nothing was more important to me than baseball. 
My team was the New York Giants, and I followed 
the doings of those men in the black-and-orange caps 
with all the devotion of a true believer. Even now, 
remembering that team — which no longer exists, 
which played in a ballpark that no longer exists — I 
can reel off the names of nearly every player on the 
roster. Alvin Dark, Whitey Lockman, Don Mueller, 
Johnny Antonelli, Monte Irvin, Hoyt Wilhelm. 
But none was greater, none more perfect nor more 
deserving of worship than Willie Mays, the incandes- 
cent Say Hey kid. 

That spring, I was taken to my first big-league 
game. Friends of my parents had box seats at the Polo 
Grounds, and one April night a group of us went to 
watch the Giants play the Milwaukee Braves. I don't 
know who won, I can't recall a single detail of the 
game, but I do remember that after the game was over 
my parents and their friends sat talking in their seats 
until all the other spectators had left. It got so late 
that we had to walk across the diamond and leave by 
the center-field exit, which was the only one still 
open. As it happened, that exit was right below the 
players' locker rooms. 

Just as we approached the wall, I caught sight 
of Willie Mays. There was no question about who it 
was. It was Willie Mays, already out of uniform and 
standing there in his street clothes not ten feet away 
from me. I managed to keep my legs moving in his 
direction and then, mustering every ounce of my 
courage, I forced some words out of my mouth. "Mr. 
Mays," I said, "could I please have your autograph?" 

He had to have been all of twenty-four years old, 
but I couldn't bring myself to pronounce his first 

His response to my question was brusque 
but amiable. "Sure, kid, sure," he said. "You got a 

pencil?" He was so full of life, I remember, so full 
of youthful energy, that he kept bouncing up and 
down as he spoke. 

I didn't have a pencil, so I asked my father if 
I could borrow his. He didn't have one, either. Nor 
did my mother. Nor, as it turned out, did any of the 
other grownups. 

The great Willie Mays stood there watching 
in silence. When it became clear that no one in the 
group had anything to write with, he turned to me 
and shrugged. "Sorry, kid," he said. "Ain't got no 
pencil, can't give no autograph." And then he 
walked out of the ballpark into the night. 

I didn't want to cry, but tears started falling 
down my cheeks, and there was nothing I could do 
to stop them. Even worse, I cried all the way home 
in the car. Yes, I was crushed with disappointment, 
but I was also revolted at myself for not being able 
to control those tears. I wasn't a baby. I was eight 
years old, and big kids weren't supposed to cry over 
things like that. Not only did I not have Willie 
Mays' autograph, but I didn't have anything else, 
either. Life had put me to the test, and in all 
respects I had found myself wanting. 

After that night, I started carrying a pencil 
with me wherever I went. It became a habit of mine 
never to leave the house without making sure I had 
a pencil in my pocket. It's not that I had any 
particular plans for that pencil, but I didn't want to 
be unprepared. I had been caught empty-handed 
once, and I wasn't about to let it happen again. 

If nothing else, the years have taught me this: 
if there's a pencil in your pocket, there's a good 
chance that one day you'll feel tempted to start 
using it. As I like to tell my children, that's how 
I became a writer. 

- Paul Auster 


Kaye Gibbons 

Kaye Gibbons was born in Nash 
County, North Carolina, in I960. 
Her first novel, Ellen Foster was 
published while she was a student 
at the University of North 
Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 
then, she has written four novels: 
A Virtuous Woman, A Cure For 
Dreams, Charms for the Easy life, 
and Sights Unseen. She has 
received awards from the 
American Academy of Arts 
and Letters, the Chicago Tribune, 
and PEN American Center. 

Before I received an NEA 
Literature Fellowship in 1 989, 
I did not have the money for 
the February rent. But that 
grant enabled me to pay the 
rent, feed the children, and 
work in peace. However, 
I never saw the grant as 
something to which I was 
entitled. I felt that I could 
contribute something of value 
to the body of American 
letters and therefore to my 
country. Because of the book 
I wrote with the grant and 
because of subsequent books, 
I have since paid over 
$750,000 in Federal income 
tax.The government has 
been more than repaid for its 
investment in my work, and 
for that, we should both be 

I never saw the grant as something to which 

I was entitled. I felt that I could contribute something 

of value to the bodv of American letters and therefore 

to mv country. 




Ellen Foster 

When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would 
figure out this or that way and run it down through my head until it 
got easy. 

The way I liked best was letting go a poisonous spider in his bed. 
It would bite him and he'd be dead and swollen up and I would 
shudder to find him so. Of course I would call the rescue squad and 
tell them to come quick something's the matter with my daddy. When 
they come in the house Fm all in a state of shock and just don't know 
how to act what with two colored boys heaving my dead daddy onto 
a roller cot. I just stand in the door and look like I'm shaking all over. 

But I did not kill my daddy. He drank his own self to death the 
year after the Count)" moved me out. I heard how they found him shut 
up in the house dead and everything. Next thing I know he's in the 
ground and the house is rented out to a family of four. 

All I did was wish him dead real hard every now and then. And 
I can say for a fact that I am better off now than when he was alive. 

I live in a clean brick house and mosdy I am left to myself. When 
I start to cany an odor I take a bath and folks tell me how sweet I look. 

There is plenty to eat here and if we run out of something we 
just go to the store and get some more. I had me an egg sandwich for 
breakfast, mayonnaise on both sides. And I may fix me another one 
for lunch. 

Two years ago I did not have much of anything. Not that I live in 
the lap of luxury now but I am proud for the schoolbus to pick me up 
here even- morning. My stylish well-groomed self standing in the front 
yard with the grass green and the hedge bushes square. 

I figure I made out pretty good considering the rest of my family 
is either dead or crazy. 

Every Tuesday a man comes and gets me out of social studies and 
we go to a room and talk about it all. 

Last week he spread out pictures of flat bats for me to comment 
on. I mosdv saw flat bats. Then I saw big holes a bodv could fall right 

t © * © 

into. Big black deep holes through the table and the floor. And then he 
took off his glasses and screwed his face up to mine and tells me I'm 

I used to be but I am not now is what I told him. I might get a 
litde nen-ous but I am never scared. 

- Ka\f Gibbons 


Larry Watson 

Larry Watson was born in Rugby, 
North Dakota and raised in 
Bismarck. He is the author of the 
novel In a Dark Time, a book of 
poetry, Leaving Dakota, and the 
novels Justice, Montana 1 948, 
and White Crosses. In 1993, 
Montana 1 948 received the 
Milkweed National Fiction Prize, 
the Mountain & Plains Bookseller 
Association Regional Book Award, 
and was named one of the Best 
Books of the Year by both Library 
Journal and Booklist. He teaches 
English at the University of 
Wisconsin at Stevens Point. 

On that January day, my 
writing career felt like the 
weather forecast - cold and 
getting colder. Since my first 
novel had been published 
seven years earlier, I had been 
struggling. I'd managed to 
publish a few poems and short 
stories and an occasional 
book review, but these 
rewards were so scattered 
that I began to doubt whether 
the time I spent writing was 
justifiable, especially since any 
hour I spent at the typewriter 
meant an hour that I wouldn't 
spend with my family or on 
my teaching. 

Then I opened the envelope 
and learned that I had won 
a creative writing fellowship 
from the National 
Endowment for the Arts. 
My wife remembers that I 
pumped my fist in the air as 
though I had just made the 
winning basket, but to tell 
the truth, it wasn't the elation 
of victory that I was feeling. 
It was relief. I was relieved to 

learn that someone - in 
this case, an agency of the 
government - not only 
believed my efforts were 
justified but wanted to 
encourage me to continue. 
What's more, the NEA 
believed this on the basis 
of my work alone, without 
regard for my reputation 
(or lack of one), my personal 
history, or my financial status. 

Oh, the money was nice. 
I had a heavy teaching load 
at the time, and the 
endowment allowed me to 
teach less and write more 
for a few semesters. But the 
greatest gift the NEA gave me 
was its vote of confidence - 
and my subsequent sense of 
validation as a writer. 

As I recall, the rest of that 
winter was remarkably mild. 

. . .the NEA believed [my efforts were justified], on 
the basis of my work alone, without regard for my 
reputation (or lack of one), my personal history, or 
my financial status. 





The wind rattled the window in its frame, and Gail 
reacted instinctively, huddling deeper under the 
blankets. When she was a child, that north wind 
meant the long walk to school would be even colder. 
She tried to think — when David started school, 
which route would he walk? Which street would 
offer him the most protection from the winter wind? 
Gail realized that she was moving in her mind 
through the streets of Bentrock, Montana. Of course, 
that was her son's home, his birthplace, where his 
father and paternal grandparents lived. 

Now that she thought of it, Wesley's father 
was the only man who had held David. When they 
brought the baby home from the hospital, Wesley's 
parents were waiting for them. They had brought 
gifts — baby cloths and a blanket and a rattle shaped 
like a dumbbell, and a new rocking chair with a can 
seat ("for Gail when she has to get up from those 
2:00 A.M. feedings"). 

Enid Hayden carefully folded the blanket away 
from David, exposing his red, wrinkled face. Julian 
Hayden practically grabbed David from Gail's arms. 
He lifted the baby high above his head. Gail was sure 
she saw David's eyes widen in alarm, and she thought 
she heard Wesley gasp. But neither of them said a 
word while Julian continued to hold their son aloft. 
"How does it feel to be home, boy?" Julian asked his 
grandson. "How does it feel to breathe this air?" 

Gail had been in North Dakota for almost three 
days, and her own father had not yet held David. 
What was the matter with these men — did they 
think a baby was so fragile that it could be crushed 
or broken in their arms? Did they think their hands 
were unsuited for holding a child? That their hands 

were soiled with dirt and misdeeds and therefore 
unfit to touch the clean, the innocent? My God, 
what did they think human hands were for? 

The wind gusted even harder, and Gail heard 
another familiar sound, like handfuls of sand being 
thrown against the glass. She knew what that meant: 
the wind had brought snow, fine-grained and icy, 
down from the north. This time Gail did not 
burrow deeper under the quilt. She threw the 
blankets off and went to the bassinet to make certain 
David hadn't wriggled loose from his blankets. 

To her astonishment, the baby was already 
awake. He was struggling to lift his head as if he was 
desperate to see above and beyond the white wicker 
walls of his bassinet. His fingers clenched and 
unclenched, and his legs kicked determinedly as if 
they could find purchase in the thin cold morning 

His mouth worked and contorted with the 
effort to suckle or cry or both, but for the moment 
Gail just watched him. As soon as he made a sound, 
as soon as he found a voice, she would pick him up. 
But not before. 

- Larry Watson 


Rita Dove 

Rita Dove was born in Akron, 
Ohio in 1952 and educated 
at Miami University of Ohio, 
Universitat Tubingen in Germany, 
and the University of Iowa. 
She has published the poetry 
collections TheYellow House on 
the Corner, Museum, Thomas and 
Beulah, Grace Notes, Selected 
Poems, and Mother Love, a book 
of short stories Fifth Sunday, the 
novel Through the Ivory Gate, essays 
under the title The Poet'sWorld, 
and the play The Darker Face of 
the Earth (first production 1996, 
Oregon Shakespeare Festival). 
She has received numerous 
literary and academic honors, 
among them the 1987 Pulitzer 
Prize in Poetry, the 1996 Heinz 
Award in the Arts and Humanities, 
and the 1996 Charles Frankel 
Prize; from 1993 to 1995, she 
served as Poet Laureate of the 
United States and Consultant in 
Poetry to the Library of Congress. 
Rita Dove is Commonwealth 
Professor of English at the 
University of Virginia in 
Charlottesville, where she lives 
with her husband and daughter. 

In 1978, 1 was a young poet, 
fresh out of graduate school, 
who had not yet published her 
first volume of poetry.The 
fellowship not only gave me 
a boost in confidence, but it 
also allowed me to dedicate 
concentrated periods of time 
to the development of my art. 
I was able to regard the 
fellowship as a "nest egg," 
so that I was not forced to 
accept the first teaching job 
offered me (which would have 
surely delayed the publication 
of my first poetry book by 
several years); instead, I could 
live frugally and write full 
time for a year. 

Of course, it is impossible 
for me to say what I would 
have done had I not receiyed 
a fellowship; I can only say 
that I believe the course of 
my literary career would 
have been markedly different. 
Because of my gratitude, 
I have served on several panels 
for the Endowment - my 
way of repaying, in part, the 
support and encouragement 
provided me at a young and 
tentative age. 

I was able to regard the fellowship as 

a "nest egg," so that. . . I could live frugally 

and write full time for a year. 



Small Town 

Someone is sitting in the red house. 

There is no way of telling who it is, although 

the woman, indistinct, in the doorway must know; 

and the man in the chestnut tree 

who wields the binoculars 

does not wish to be seen from the window. 

The paint was put there by a previous owner. 

The dog in the flower bed 

is bound by indiscriminate love, 

which is why he does not bark 

and why in one of the darkened rooms 

someone sits, a crackling vacuum. 

The woman wears a pale blue nightgown 

and stares vaguely upward. The man, 

whose form appears clearly among the leaves, 

is not looking at her 

so much as she at him, 

while away behind the town a farmer 

weeps, plowing his fields by night 

to avoid being laughed at during the day. 

- Rita Dove 


Diane Glancy 

Diane Glancy is from Oklahoma 
and now is associate professor 
at Macalester College in St. Paul, 
Minnesota. Her novel, Pushing the 
Bear, about the l838Trail of Tears 
was published by Harcourt Brace 
in 1996. A second novel, The Only 
Piece of Furniture in the House, was 
published by Moyer Bell, also in 
1 996. A collection of nine plays, 
War Cries, and a new collection 
of essays, The West Pole, were 
published in 1997. 

My NEA grant came in 1 990 
which was a pivotal year for 
me. I had finished a MFA 
program and began teaching 
at a small college. It gave me 
money to take summers and 
intercessions off to write. A 
poetry collection, Lone Dog's 
Winter Count, and a short 
story collection, Firesticks, 
came from it. Also time to 
work on my novel, Pushing 
the Bear, about the 1 938 
Trail of Tears. It was the 
substantiation as well as the 
money which gave me hope 
and confidence that there 
was a way for me to do 
what I had set out to do. 
I am very grateful. 

It was the substantiation as well as the money 
which gave me hope and confidence that there 
was a way for me to do what I had set out to do. 




Lead Horse 


Rain blew through the screen. Nattie stood in the 
open door. Feeling the spray on her face. 

A tree in the backyard slammed its door. Or maybe it 
was the room upstairs. The windows were still open. 

Her backyard bushes beat the ground. Back and 
forth their fists pounded the grass. 

Let the curtains stand straight out. Let the storm 
stomp-dance through her house. Ratde her plastic 
dress-bags hanging on the door. Her shawl-fringe 
and feathers. 

She watched the lid to the trash can fly across the 
yard like a war shield. She watched the leaves buck. 

What's the battle out there, Nattie? Joes said. He 
scratched his ear when Nattie looked at him. 

The wind wheezed through the weatherstripping on 
the door. The whole yard shook. And it was the day 
of a family birthday. A relative Nattie only wanted to 
send a card to, usually, but now she was on her way, 
and the cousins were going to show up and Nattie 
had a sink full of dishes and a war in the yard and 
Joes at the table. And he was starting to hum like 
electricity on the backyard wire. 

It's a lot for one old woman, she thought. 

It'll be over soon, Joes comforted. 

The relatives or the storm? 

The trees raised and bowed their arms in exagger- 
ated motions as if the cousins already pulled in the 
drive. But the relatives were out there under an 
underpass in their car. The old green Plymouth 
tossing a litde in the gusts of wind. Chewing them 
but not yet swallowing. Jerking all the while with 
pleasure Nattie could only imagine. 

She was making her corn chowder and cornbread 
and corn pudding. She should have said she'd meet 
them at Benny Bill's Ranchero. They could have a 
steak and dance. But the cousins didn't like that. She 

could outdude them any time. In fact, they couldn't 
dude at all. Yes. What a storm-sash she was. 

But Joes could still make her blush. And the cousins 
were coming and she was supposed to cowtow and 
lick their fritters. The trees swept their arms. The 
storm shuttered over the house. Horse hooves 

Still the rain torpedoed the house. Just like Crouper 
and Boaz, the cousins, when they were boys, 
roughhousing upstairs and you wanted to yell at 
them to stop. 

You going to close that door, Nat? 

When I'm ready. 

She'd seen the highway once from a place. The one 
time she flew. She'd felt the invisible cord that jerks 
a plane into the sky. A pull-toy right up to the clouds 
where the highway and its cloverleaf looked like 
cucumber pickles in ajar, the tight highway loops 
like curls of onion. 

Maybe a spirit fell to the yard, flailing, by the looks 
of it. The arms and legs struggling to get up and 
disappear before someone could look from her 
house and say, hey, there's a spirit out there. The 
splot between the elm and the oak, and the bushes 
beating it away. No, the wisteria didn't want any 
fallen spirit in their yard. Something was being swept 
out of the Hunting Grounds. The Great Spirit had 
his war stick out. The old hammock wind-danced. 

Then Joes was at the door with her. Kissing her jaw. 
Rubbing his fingers across her back. Sometimes his 
hand went just under the fatty part of her hip. 

Keep your hands on your own self, she said. 

Lightning cracked so loud Nattie closed the door. 

- Diane Glancy 


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Having Eveiything Right 

You have to listen real hard to hear anything at all: 
a little snow ticking down through the juniper trees: 
the click of the chain around a family plot flexing in 
the cold. Wind. You hear it quite a while before it 
arrives. Then the eastern half of your face might just 
as well be stone. 

Ten years ago I was here to do a formal study 
of the cemetery layout. As part of my folkloristic 
fieldwork. I made a systematic ramble of thirteen 
central Oregon cemeteries, stepping respectfully in 
the August dust of memorial plots at Grizzly. 
Antelope. Ashwood, Grandview. Madras. Hay 
Creek, Bakeoven. Warm Springs. Simnashio. Camp 
Polk, and three without names. I wanted to know 
how the adjacent communities of the living marked, 
surveyed, and maintained these trim little cities of 
stone and sage. I wanted to know how many 
gravemarkers listed family relations, military rank, 
professions, hobbies, wise proverbs, and the verse of 
grief or hope. I wanted to know how these stretches 
of sacred ground were isolated from the catde range 
surrounding them: wood fence, iron gate, barbed 
wire, poplar square. On the main street of how many 
towns would there be a sign for the "Cemetery: 2 
miles"? How many plots would be local secrets 
tucked away up a side canyon? 

I wanted to seek and listen, to map and ponder 
the visible artifacts of religious belief my people 
hold. I did all that. The study is in the archive. The 
memory works on me. 

But now it's dusk at Camp Polk, and I'm 
visiting old friends. Here's Ray, by the champion 
juniper gnarl he loved to paint. His name in my 
mouth brings up a riff of banjo jangle I heard him 
play. There's a snow-swir-1 dancer over his place now. 

I remember my discovery ten years ago. that 
graves even-where planted heads to the west. This 
marks the Christian readiness to rise up facing Christ 
as He will bloom from the east on Judgment Day. 
And I remember how many of the thirteen cemeteries 
marked the end of a dead-end road: the Ashwood 
plot up a dirt track with no sign. The Grizzly 
cemetery at the ripe heart of a wheatfield with no 
road at all, forgotten like the town of Grizzly itself. 

which some prosperous corporation bought. I drove 
around and around that field, knowing I was close, 
my map fluttering from my hand in the heat, until 
finally I squinted my eyes past the shimmering wheat 
and saw the cemetery fence out there in the middle of 

Somewhere near the cemetery here at Camp 
Polk, a hundred odd years ago, the U.S. Army buried 
a cannon before fleeing from the Indians. Treasure 
hunters have sought it. as if it were a memory they 
owned by rights, as if that brass body might be raised 
up and carried away. You have to brave a series of 
"No Trespassing'" signs to get to Camp Polk. Ten 
years ago there was a sign to invite visitors on toward 
the cemetery on its little hill beyond the most 
handsome of falling barns. This evening, there is no 
sign. You have to know. 

Driving into Shaniko, on my cemetery route in 
1975, 1 remember slowing the car to ask directions of 
an old-timer crumpled easily beside a shed, whitding 
steadily at a stub of wood. I didn't realize until too 
late the impertinence of my opening question: 
"Excuse me, sir. could you direct me to the cem- 

There was a tremendous pause, as he turned 
slowly up from his work to unroll a vacant smile. No 
answer was on the way. I thanked him. and drove on 
to the Eat Cafe. This time, I tried to be a bit more 
discreet, making my request in hushed tones to the 
waitress as she came rollicking across the room with 
half a dozen steaming plates along her arms. 

"Excuse me. I'm trying to find the cemetery — 
for research.'" 

She lurched experdy to a stop without josding 
a plate, and shouted to the long table of white-haired 
ladies at the far end of the room. "Hev girls, we got a 
cemetery?" They vaguely shook their heads. 

"Mister," she said, "we ain't got one. Try 
Antelope." I explained that I had already been there, 
and learned what I could. 

"Well." she said, "then I don't think we can help 
you. We don't figure to do much dying in this towTi." 

- Kim Stafford 


Annie Dill ard 

Annie Dillard has published 
poetry, short stories, criticism, 
memoirs, essays and a novel. 
Her books include Tickets for a 
Prayer Wheel, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 
-which won the 1975 Pulitzer 
Prize, An American Childhood, 
The Writing Life, and the novel 
The Living. She has taught at 
several universities and lived in 
Virginia, the Pacific Northwest, 
Connecticut and Florida. 
An American Childhood is her story 
of growing up in the '50s in 
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

The grant freed me from 
teaching and enabled me to 
write two books: a book of 
thoughts about contemporary 
fiction, Living by Fiction, and 
a book of essays, Teaching 
a Stone to Talk. The Boston 
Globe generously called the 
latter one of the ten best 
books of the 1 980s; oddly 
enough, Outside magazine 
listed it as one of the ten best 
books of the past 25 years. 
Anthologists often use 
selections from both the 



I try to describe what it 
feels like to be alive in the 
United States. My books 
are about rural Virginia, 
about Pittsburgh, about the 
Pacific Northwest Coast.... 
Literature has all my heart 
and mind. That the NEA 
supports literature in the 
United States enhances and 
confirms our cultural status. 
All civilized nations support 
artists; we know nations 
by their works of art. 

All civilized nations support artists; we know nations 
by their works of art. 




An American Childhood 

When everything else has gone from my brain — 
the President's name, the state capitals, the 
neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own 
name and what it was on earth I sought, and then 
at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces 
of my family — when all this has dissolved, what will 
be left, I believe, is topology: the dreaming memory 
of land as it lay this way and that. 

I will see the city poured rolling down the 
mountain valleys like slag, and see the city lights 
sprinkled and curved around the hills' curves, rows 
of bonfires winding. At sunset a red light like 
housefires shines from the narrow hillside windows; 
the houses' bricks burn like glowing coals. 

The three wide rivers divide and cool the 
mountains. Calm old bridges span the banks and 
link the hills. The Allegheny River flows in brawling 
from the north, from near the shore of Lake Erie, and 
from Lake Chautauqua in New York and eastward. 
The Monongahela River flows in shallow and slow 
from the south, from West Virginia. The Allegheny 
and Monongahela meet and form the westward- 
wending Ohio. 

Where the two rivers join lies an acute point of 
flat land from which rises the city. The tall buildings 
rise lighted to their tips. Their lights illumine other 
buildings' clean sides, and illumine the narrow city 
canyons below, where people move, and shine 
reflected red and white at night from the black 

When the shining city, too, fades, I will see only 
those forested mountains and hills, and the way the 
rivers lie flat and moving among them, and the way 
the low land lies wooded among them, and the blunt 
mountains rise in darkness from the rivers' banks, 
steep from the rugged south and rolling from the 
north, and from farther, from the inclined eastward 

plateau where the high ridges begin to run so long 
north and south unbroken that to get around them 
you practically have to navigate Cape Horn. 

In those first days, people said, a squirrel 
could run the long length of Pennsylvania without 
ever touching the ground. In those first days, the 
woods were white oak and chestnut, hickory, maple, 
sycamore, walnut, wild ash, wild plum, and white 
pine. The pine grew on the ridgetops where the 
mountains' lumpy spines stuck up and their skin 
was thinnest. 

The wilderness was uncanny, unknown. 
Benjamin Franklin had already invented his stove 
in Philadelphia by 1735, and Thomas Jefferson was 
a schoolboy in Virginia; French soldiers had been 
living in forts along Lake Erie for two generations. 
But west of the Alleghenies, not even a cabin. No 
Indians lived there, or even near there. 

Wild grapevines tangled the treetops and shut 
out the sun. Few songbirds lived in the deep woods. 
Bright Carolina parakeets — red, green, and yellow 
— nested in the dark forest. There were ravens then, 
too. Woodpeckers rattled the big trees' trunks, 
ruffled grouse whirred their tail feathers in the fall, 
and every long once in a while a nervous gang of 
empty-headed turkeys came hustling and kicking 
through the leaves — but no one heard any of this, 
no one at all. 

-Annie Dillard 


Michael S. Harper 

Michael S. Harper is University 
Professor and Professor of English 
at Brown University, where he has 
taught since 1970. He is the first 
Poet Laureate of the State of 
Rhode Island, a term he held from 
1988-93. He has published ten 
books of poetry, two of which 
were nominated for the National 
Book Award: Dear John, Dear 
Coltrane arid Images of Kin, New 
and Selected Poems, the latter won 
the Melville-Cane Award from the 
Poetry Society of America. His 
book History Is Your Own Heartbeat 
won the Black Academy of Arts & 
Letters Award for poetry in 1 97 1 . 
In 1990, he received the Robert 
Hayden Poetry Award from the 
United Negro College Fund. 
He is coeditor of Every Shut Eye 
Ain't Asleep, an anthology of 
poetry by African Americans 
from 1 945 to the present, and 
in 1997, he received the first 
annual Claiborne Pell Award for 
excellence in the arts. 

"Artists are here to disturb 

the peace." -James Baldwin 


I combined my NEA Award 
with a Guggenheim grant so 
I could take the whole year 
off from Brown University, 
where I have taught since 
1970; administering a 
program has taken its toll, 
but 1977 was pivotal; I had 
just returned from an eight- 
country trip in Africa to my 
brother's demise. 

The African countries have 
remained in my memory: 
Senegal, where I was granted 
an audience with Senghor; 
Gambia, where I traveled to 
Juffure, the famous Mandinka 
town of Alex Haley's Roots; 
Ghana, where I visited 
Emmanuel Boye and Kofi 
Awoonor, who'd survived 
imprisonment in Cape Coast; 
Nigeria, where I could not 
locate ChinuaAchebe, 
the novelist; Zaire, where 

I had an audience with 
Nadine Gordimer, and where 
I read at the U.S. Information 
Agency and heard her story 
about the sacrifice of a chief 
in the border area; Botswana, 
where I sawWole Serote; 
Zambia, where I met 
Frank Chipasula, the poet; 
Kenya, where I saw Karen 
Blixen's vision juxtaposed 
to James Ngugi. 

Literature, for me, has always 
been a study of comparative 
humanity, the formal and the 
vernacular at work in the 
parlance of speech and song. 
My service to NEA panels 
over the years has been in 
recognition of our regional 
integrity, our scope as a 
nation, its complex configu- 
rations of culture, and a 
waning literacy. Artists are 
here to disturb the peace. 

Literature, for me, has always been a study of - 
comparative humanity, the formal and the vernacular 
at work in the parlance of speech and song. 



We Assume: 

On the Death of Our Son, 

Reuben Masai Harper 

We assume 

that in 28 hours, 

lived in a collapsible isolette, 

you learned to accept pure oxygen 

as the natural sky; 

the scant shallow breaths 

that filled those hours 

cannot, did not make you fly — 

but dreams were there 

like crooked palmprints on 

the twin-thick windows of the nursery — 

in the glands of your mother. 

We assume 

that sterile hands 

drank chemicals in and out 

from lungs opaque with mucus, 

pumped your stomach, 

eeked the bicarbonate in 

crooked, green-winged veins, 

out in a plastic mask; 

A woman who'd lost her first son 

consoled us with an angel gone ahead 

to pray for our family — 

gone into that sky 

seeking oxygen, 

gone into autopsy, 

a fine brown powdered sugar, 

a disposable cremation: 

We assume 

you did not know we loved you. 

- Michael S. Harper 


Susan Ludvigson 

Susan Ludvigson's most recent 
books of poems are Trinity and 
Helle's Story; she has published 
five other collections with LSU 
Press, and two other chapbooks. 
Her New and Selected Poems is 
scheduled for publication by 
LSU Press in 1999. Ludvigson 
frequently represents the U.S. at 
international writing congresses, 
which have included the first 
meeting of French, Soviet, and 
American women writers in Paris, 
as well as poetry festivals in 
Canada, Belgium, and the former 
Yugoslavia. Among her fellowships 
are a Guggenheim and a Fulbright. 
She is Poet-in-Residence and 
Professor of English atWinthrop 
University in Rock Hill, South 

It seems to me an almost 
religious act of faith for 
legislators to affirm the 
importance of works of the 
imagination, of the spirit, 
by giving modest support 
to artists. It is not an 
exaggeration to say that 
such support changed my 
life, my view of history, my 
relationship to the world. 
My poems are more mature 
by far, their richest materials 
often coming directly from 
experiences that grants made 
possible. This fellowship 
bought me time - the one 
resource artists rarely have 
in abundance, and our 
greatest need. 

My poems are more mature by fan their richest 
materials often coming directly from experiences 
that grants made possible. 




Walking behind two men, I watch 

the long tail of a pheasant drift 

and rise, hanging half out 

of a pocket made for it, feathers 

caught in the small breeze 

parting, coming together 

like living things. They're September 

colors, could make the quills 

our neighbor says he'd write with 

if he wrote. 

The one with the bird has his shotgun 
broken, its V slung over his shoulder 
an echo of geese. The other 
carries his gun in his arms, is calling 
the spaniel, who chases a moth 
into a ditch. 

Dawn again. Sun's a pink slit 
between mountains. I wait 
for the crack of a shot to slice 
the lightening sky. But all the birds 
have disappeared — even the swallows 
whose spiral above the balcony 
at this hour is a mournful concert, 
a skittery dance. 

Pines in the distance begin to brighten, 
deep blue to something like green. 

Everything winged must be dreaming. 
- Susan Ludvigson 


Dan O'Brien 

Dan O'Brien lives and works 
on a ranch in South Dakota. 
An avid naturalist, he has written 
two classics on falconry: The Rites 
of Autumn: A Falconer's Journey 
Across the American West and 
Equinox: Life, Love, and Birds of 
Prey. His collection of short 
stories, Eminent Domain, received 
the Iowa Award for Short Fiction, 
and he has written the novels 
Spirit of the Hills, In the Center of 
the Nation, and Brendan Prairie. 

I was working as a part-time 
biologist and taking care of 
cows when the NEA came 
through. It was the first time 
anyone had told me that my 
writing might be of some 
value. I still do a little biology 
and take care of a few cows, 
but my tax return says 
"writer." If it weren't for 
the NEA grant that would 
not be the case. 

I still do a little biology and take care of a few cows, 
but my tax return says "writer" 




In the Center of the Nation 

Coming from either direction the land changes before you have a chance to 
get ready for it. Traveling eastward, you see the grasslands for the first time 
from several thousand feet up in the Rocky Mountains. You come around 
a turn intent on the ruggedness of the mountains, and suddenly the pine 
trees, rocks, and fast-running water are gone. Below you, though still fifty 
miles off, is the flattest, smoothest, most treeless stretch of land imagin- 
able. And if you're traveling west, you've just gotten used to the fertile, 
black soils of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, just come to expect the neatly 
planted, prosperous farm buildings surrounded by cultivated groves of 
trees, when you come to the Missouri River, and it all goes to hell. 
Suddenly the order is gone, the prosperity scattered. When you get the 
feeling that the whole world can see you but no one is watching, you have 
come to the grasslands of North America. 

They roll up out of the Missouri River breaks and flatten, with few 
deviations, for six hundred miles. Since the beginning the grasslands have 
reminded Europeans of an ocean, an ocean of grass. But, of course, they 
were as far from the big water as they would get. Maybe knowing that, 
but still having the feeling that they're floating, unable to reach anything 
familiar and solid, tends to drive people crazy. And maybe it's that 
craziness that makes some people move the way they do when they come 
to the grasslands: from one river drainage to the next, from town to town, 
right through the grasslands. Get away, fast. 

Things have always moved out here, but usually in a circle. Like the 
geese, the ducks, the Indians, the buffalo. My God, the buffalo! Millions, 
weighing a ton apiece, turning grass into meat and moving on. Not moving 
through like the ocean people, but moving in huge, annual circles and 
coming back to the place where they have always been. Moving along the 
Missouri when they felt like it, turning to the west and grazing along the 
Cheyenne River, staying on the benches to the south, eating the wheat- 
grass, the bluestem, the switchgrass, and fescue. 

For ten million years they moved like that, until Europeans came 
and said that all of it had to belong to someone. The buffalo were killed. 
For trespassing? Who knows? Only the birds, those that survive, still 
move in grand swirling migrations that take them thousands of miles 
south in winter and thousands of miles north in summer. They move 
back and forth with the seasons, perpendicular to the path of the people 
on the interstate highway. 


Dan O'Brien 


Charles Wright 

Charles Wright was born in 
Hardin County, Tennessee and 
grew up there and in North 
Carolina. He is a poet of 
extraordinary range and 
productivity, publishing collections 
of his work since 1963. He is the 
author of The Voyage, The Dream 
Animal, Backwater, Dead Color, 
The Southern Cross, Zone Journals 
and TheWorld ofTenThousand 
Things. Born in Tennessee, he has 
taught at a number of American 
universities; for the past 14 years, 
he has been Professor of English 
at the University of Virginia. 
He has received a Guggenheim 
Fellowship, the PEN Translation 
Prize for his work on Italian poet 
Eugenio Montale, the National 
Book Award, and the Lenore 
Marshall Poetry Prize. 

The NEA grant was of 
enormous help to me. It 
enabled me to spend time 
in two places, Montana and 
California, which played a 
large part in a long poem I 
was undertaking and which 
went on into November of 
1 984. The poem, "A Journal 
of True Confessions," I I pages 
long, took me almost five 
months to complete. It was 
published in The Paris Review. 
I was also able to produce 
two shorter pieces, "March 
Journal" and "Night Journal," 
both of which appeared in 
Field magazine, and "Yard 
Journal" which appeared in 
The NewYorker. 

Still, the primary importance 
of the grant to me, and the 
primary result of the grant 
in writing terms, is the long, 
five-month piece I mentioned. 
Without the grant, I would 
have been unable to go to the 
two locations and spend time 
there that resulted in such, 
I like to think, good results. 
The poem is the centerpiece 
of the first part of the book, 
a group of 'verse journals.' 
I am greatly indebted to the 
Literature Program and the 
National Endowment for the 
Arts for the freed time and 
resources it gave me to get 
this particular work done. 

[The grant] enabled me to spend time in two places, 
Montana and California, which played a large part in a 
long poem I was undertaking... 



Driving Through Tennessee 

It's strange what the past brings back. 

Our parents, for instance, how ardently they still loom 

In the brief and flushed 

Fleshtones of memory, one foot in front of the next 

Even in retrospect, and so unimpeachable. 

And towns that we lived in once, 

And who we were then, the roads we went back and forth on 

Returning ahead of us like rime 

In the moonlight's fall, and Jesus returning, and Stephen Martyr 

And St. Paul of the Sword . . 

— I am their music, 

Mothers and fathers and places we hurried through in the night: 
I put my mouth to the dust and sing their song. 
Remember us, Galeoto, and whistle our tune, when the time comes, 
For charity's sake. 

- Charles Wright 


Sandra Cisneros 

Sandra Cisneros was born in 
Chicago and now lives and writes 
in San Antonio, Texas. She has 
worked as a teacher to high 
school dropouts, a poet-in-the- 
schools, a college recruiter, an 
arts administrator, and as a visiting 
writer at a number of universities. 
She received a fellowship from 
the Lannan Foundation in 1991. 
Among her books are a collection 
of poetry entitled My Wicked 
Wicked Ways, the novel The House 
on Mango Street, and a collection 
of short stories Woman Hollering 

To call yourself a writer takes 
a great deal of audacity when 
you don't earn your living 
writing, when you don't have 
a trust fund, health insurance, 
a car, a house, a book, and are 
overcome with despair with 
your wretched life, still 
sleeping on the floor, books 
stored in milk crates, and 
your employment record is 
wobbly because you keep 
quitting jobs when they don't 
leave you time to write. 

The NEA Fellowship I 
received for poetry in 1 982 
arrived when I was feeling 
most vulnerable, most close 
to giving up. 

I quit my job, paid off my 
student loans, wrapped up 
my community volunteer 
work, and wrote full-time for 
a year and a half. During this 
period I finished my novel, 
The House on Mango Street, 
and most of my next book 
of poetry, if the NEA had 
not arrived, I would still be 
writing Mango Street. 

Another NEA in 1987, this 
time for fiction, arrived as if 
Divine Providence knew I was 
dangling from a thread. A 
severe depression in my 32nd 
year almost did me in. The 
fellowship saved my life - 
saved me from myself, from 
the self-destruction of despair 
and verified I was indeed 
valuable, what I did mattered, 
not just to myself and to a few 
friends, but to strangers who 
had judged my work extraordi- 
nary and, therefore, deemed 
my life important.That year, 
that validation meant more to 
me than the money. 

As a small press writer, 
as a woman and a woman 
of Mexican descent, my 
fellowships helped to serve 
as validation that I was in fact 
a genuine writer, not some 
dilettante pretending to be. 
I could not call myself writer 
now if it weren't for the timely 
assistance of the National 
Endowment for the Arts. 

As a small press writer as a woman and a woman 
of Mexican descent, my fellowships helped to serve as 
validation that I was in fact a genuine writer. . . 



My Lucy Friend 
Who Smells Like Corn 

Lucy Anguiano, Texas girl who smells like corn, like 
Frito Bandito chips, like tortillas, something like that 
warm smell oinixtamal or bread the way her head 
smells when she's leaning close to you over a paper 
cutout doll or on the porch when we are squatting 
over marbles trading this pretty crystal that leaves a 
blue star on your hand for that giant cat-eye with a 
grasshopper green spiral in the center like the juice of 
bugs on the windshield when you drive to the border, 
like the yellow blood of butterflies. 

Have you ever eated dog food? I have. After 
crunching like ice, she opens her big mouth to prove 
it, only a pink tongue rolling around in there like a 
blind worm, and Janey looking in because she said, 
Show me. But me, I like that Lucy, corn-smell hair 
and aqua flip-flops just like mine that we bought at 
the K-Mart for only seventy-nine cents same time. 

I'm going to sit in the sun, don't care if it's a 
million trillion degrees outside, so my skin can get so 
dark it's blue where it bends like Lucy's. Her whole 
family like that. Eyes like knife slits. Lucy and her 
sisters. Norma, Margarita, Ofelia, Herminia, Nancy, 
Olivia, Cheli, y la Amber Sue. 

Screen door with no screen. BANG! Litde black 
dog biting his fur. Fat couch on the porch. Some of 
the windows painted blue, some pink because her 
daddy got tired that day or forgot. Mama in the 
kitchen feeding clothes into the wringer washer and 
clothes rolling out all stiff and twisted and flat like 
paper. Lucy got her arm stuck once and had to yell, 
Maaa! and her mama had to put the machine in 
reverse and then her hand rolled back, the finger 
black and later, her nail fell off. But did you arm get 
flat like the clothes? What happened to your arm? Did 
they have to pump it with air? No, only the finger, 
and she didn't cry neither. 

Lean across the porch rail and pin the pink sock 
of the baby Amber Sue on top of Cheli's flowered 
T-shirt, and the blue jeans of la Ofelia over the inside 
seam of Olivia's blouse, over the flannel nightgown of 
Margarita so it don't stretch out, and then you take 
the work shirts of their daddy and hang them upside 
down like this, and this way all the clothes don't get 

so wrinkled and take up less space and you don't 
waste pins. The girls all wear each other's clothes, 
except Olivia who is stingy, because there ain't no 
boys here. Only girls and one father who is never 
home hardly and one mother who says, Ay! I'm real 
tired, and so many sisters there's no time to count 

I'm sitting in the sun even though it's the hottest 
part of the day, the part that makes the streets dizzy, 
when the heat makes a little hat on the top of your 
head and bakes the dust and weed grass and sweat up 
so good, all steamy and smelling like sweet corn. 

I want to rub heads and sleep in a bed with little 
sisters, some at the top and some at the feets. I think 
it would be fun to sleep with sisters you could yell at 
one at a time or all together, instead of all alone on the 
fold-out chair in the living room. 

When I get home Abuelita will say, Didn 't I tell 
you? and I'll get it because I was supposed to wear 
this dress again tomorrow. But first I'm going to jump 
off an old pissy mattress in the Anguiano yard. I'm 
going to scratch your mosquito bites, Lucy, so they'll 
itch you, then put Mercurochrome smiley faces on 
them. We're going to trade shoes and wear them on 
our hands. We're going to walk over to Janey Ortiz's 
house and say, We're never going to he your friend 
again forever! We're going to run home backwards 
and we're going to run home frontwards, look twice 
under the house where the rats hide and I'll stick one 
foot in there because you dared me, sky so blue and 
heaven inside those white clouds. I'm going to peel a 
scab from my knee and eat it, sneeze on the cat, give 
you three M&M's I've been saving for you since 
yesterday, comb your hair with my fingers and braid 
it into teeny-tiny braids real pretty. We're going to 
wave to a lady we don't know on the bus. Hello! I'm 
going to somersault on the rail of the front porch even 
though my chones show. And cut paper dolls we draw 
ourselves, and color in their clothes with crayons, my 
arm around your neck. 

And when we look at each other, our arms 
gummy from an orange Popsicle we split, we could 
be sisters, right? We could be, you and me waiting for 
our teeths to fall and money. You laughing something 
into my ear that tickles, and me going, Ha Ha Ha Ha. 
Her and me, my Lucy friend who smells like corn. 

- Sandra Cisneros 


Mark Strand 

Mark Strand was born in 
Summerside, Prince Edward 
Island, Canada. His collections 
of poems include: Dark Harbor, 
The Continuous Life, Selected Poems, 
The Late Hour.The Story of our 
Lives, Reasons For Moving, and 
SleepingWith One Eye Open. 
He has also published a book 
of prose, entitled The Monument 
and has written books on artists 
William Bailey and Hopper. His 
translations include two volumes 
of the poems of Carlos Drummond 
de Andrade. He has also published 
three books for children. 

Strand has been the recipient 
of Fellowships from the 
Ingram Merrill, Rockefeller, 
and Guggenheim Foundations. 
He has been awarded the 
Fellowship of the Academy of 
American Poets, a John D. 
And Catherine T. MacArthur 
Foundation Award, the Bollingen 
Prize, and has served as Poet 
Laureate of the United States. 
He is currently the Elliott Coleman 
Professor of Poetry in the Writing 
Seminars at the Johns Hopkins 
University. For many years, he 
wrote and taught at the University 
of Utah in Salt Lake City. 

The NEA was valuable in 
relieving me of tedious and 
time-consuming obligations 
of journalism. I was able to 
concentrate my literary 
efforts to what I was best at - 
namely, poetry. I shall always 
be grateful to the National 
Endowment for the Arts for 
the generosity in giving me 
the grant. 

The NEA [grant allowed me to] to concentrate my literary 
efforts to what I was best at - namely, poetry. 





Life in the Valley 

Like many brilliant notions — easy to understand 
But hard to believe — the one about our hating it here 
Was put aside and then forgot. Those freakish winds 
Over the flaming lake, bearing down, bringing a bright 
Electrical dust, an ashen air crowded with leaves — 
Fallen, ghostly — shading the valley, filling it with 
A rushing sound, were not enough to drive us out. 
Nor were those times the faded winter sun 
Lowered a frozen half-light over the canyons 
And silent storms buried the high resorts 
With heavy snows. We simply stayed indoors. 
Our friends would say the views — starlight over 
The clustered domes and towers, the frigid moon 
In the water's glass — were great. And we agreed, 
And got to like the sight of iron horses rusting 
In the fields, and birds with wings outspread, 
Their silver bones glowing at the water's edge, 
And far away, huge banks of clouds motionless as lead. 

- Mark Strand 


Louise Gluck 

Louise Gliick is an award-winning 
poet. In 1985, she received the 
National Book Critics Circle 
Award for TheTriumph of Achilles, 
and in 1 993, she received the 
Pulitzer Prize for TheWild Iris. 
Among her other titles are 
Firstborn, Descending Figure, and 
Proofs and Theories. She is the 
recipient of a Rockefeller grant 
and two Guggenheim fellowships, 
and currently teaches at Williams 
College and lives in Vermont. 

Like most writers, I do other 
work. During the period of 
my most recent fellowship, 
I was teaching at Williams 
College. In many ways, I love 
that work: I cannot always be 
certain when my own writing 
will be going well and, since 
I live in a rural area, have 
found it helpful - often - to 
be in greater proximity to 
human sound, to have 
objective tasks. But Williams 
is far from northern Vermont: 
six hours by Vermont Transit. 
Increasingly, the rhythm 
of my teaching life (which 
divides the week - three 
nights away, four at home) 
has been a strain. By the time 
of my last fellowship, it had 
become quite a desperate 
strain; because I do not teach 
full time, I was not eligible 
for sabbaticals. 

The great gift of that 
fellowship was the relief of 
pressure; that the year itself 
was not one of my most 
productive seems hardly 
an issue. I finished a book 
(Ararat). But I am convinced 
that subsequent work owes 
much to that time, to the 
sense of possible liberation, 
or, at least, respite from an 
exhausting regimen. 

I am convinced that subsequent work owes 
much to that time, to the. . . respite from an 
exhausting regimen. 





Once I believed in you; I planted a fig tree 
Here, in Vermont, country 
of no summer. It was a test: if the tree lived 
it would mean you existed. 

By this logic, you do not exist. Or you exist 

exclusively in warmer climates, 

in fervent Sicily and Mexico and California, 

where are grown the unimaginable 

apricot and fragile peach. Perhaps 

they see your face in Sicily; here, we barely see 

the hem of your garment. I have to discipline myself 

to share with John and Noah the tomato crop. 

If there is justice in some other world, those 
like myself, whom nature forces 
into lives of abstinence, should get 
the lion's share of all things, all 
objects of hunger, greed being 
praise of you. And no one praises 
more intensely than I, with more 
painfully checked desire, or more deserves 
to sit at your right hand, if it exists, partaking 
of the perishable, the immortal fig, 
which does not travel. - 

- Louise Gliick 


Richard Bausch 

Richard Bausch is a novelist and 
short story writer, who teaches 
at George Mason University in 
Virginia. Recipient of a Guggenheim 
fellowship, he has written the 
novels Real Presence, The Last Good 
Time, Mr. Field's Daughter, Violence 
and Rebel Powers. His short stories 
are collected under the titles 
Spirits, and Other Stories, The 
Fireman's Wife and Other Stories, - 
and Rare and Endangered Species. 
His most recent book is Good 
Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, 
and All the Ships At Sea, a novel. 

I had the whole morning to 
myself, and I was supposed to 
spend it writing. Instead I lay 
on the couch and listened to 
Sibelius's 5th Symphony. It 
was fall, and there was a big 
picture window in the living 
room of the house we lived in 
then. This window looked out 
on woods, all those fall colors, 
and the leaves were dropping, 
as if with the cadences of the 
music of that symphony's 
opening movement. I watched 
the performance a while, then 
got up and went out of the 
house, to an amusement/ 
game store and spent about 
six dollars playing Pac Man, 
feeling sick at heart, the way 
avoidance of work always 
makes me feel. I drove home 
with the sense of having 
wasted the morning, and in 
the mail was this large white 
envelope, telling me the good 
news. It was like a prod from 
on high, like notice from the 
universe that I was expected 
to get back to work. I wrote 
most of The Last Good Time 
and several of the stories 
of Spirits, And Other Stories 
under its auspices. 

When I realized what it was, 
I drove over to the university 
and walked up to my wife 
Karen's office, and handed the 
letter to her. This was going 
to make it possible for one or 
both of us to be home with 
the children; it was going to 
mean time for me to work. 
Karen stared at the letter, 
and smiled, and kept staring. 
One of my students, a friend, 
the late Dan Rudy, saw me 
crossing the campus on the 
way to her office. He told me 
later that he knew from the 
way I looked that something 
wonderful had happened. 

I've since been given a 
Guggenheim Fellowship; 
The Lila Wallace Reader's 
Digest Writer's Award; and 
the Award of the Academy 
of Arts and Letters. Nothing 
ever quite matched the 
excitement, happiness and 
encouragement I felt, that 
sunny fall day in 1 982, when 
I learned that I'd got the 
NEA Fellowship. 

It was like a prod from on high, like notice from the 
universe that I was expected to get back to work. 




High-Heeled Shoe 

Dornberg, out for a walk in the fields behind his 
house one morning, found a black high-heeled shoe 
near the path leading down to the neighboring 
pond. The shoe had scuffed places on its shiny 
surface and caked mud adhering to it, but he could 
tell from the feel of the soft leather that it was well 
made, the kind a woman who has money might 
wear. He held it in his hand and observed that his 
sense of equilibrium shifted; he caught himself 
thinking of misfortune, failure, scandal. 

The field around him was peaceful, rife with 
fragrances of spring. The morning sun was warm, 
the air dry, the sky blue. Intermittently, drowsily, 
the cawing of crows sounded somewhere in the 
distance, above the languid murmur of little breezes 
in the trees bordering on the far side of the pond. 
A beautiful, innocent morning, and here he stood, 
holding the shoe close to his chest in the defensive, 
wary posture of the guilty — the attitude of someone 
caught with the goods — nervously scraping the 
dried mud from the shoe's scalloped sides. 

The mud turned to dust and made a small red 
cloud about his head, and when the wind blew, the 
glitter of dust swept over him. He used his shirttail 
to wipe his face, then walked a few paces, automati- 
cally looking for the shoe's mate. He thought he saw 
something in the tall grass at the edge of the pond, 
but when he got to it, stepping in the mud and 
catching himself on thorns to make his way, he found 
the dark, broken curve of a beer bottle. The owner 
of the pond had moved last fall to Alaska, and there 
were signs posted all over about the penalties for 
trespassing, but no one paid any attention to them. 
Casual littering went on. It was distressing. 
Dornberg bent down and picked up the shard of 
glass. Then he put his hand inside the shoe and 
stretched the leather, holding it up in the brightness. 

He felt weirdly dislodged from himself. 

Beyond the pond and its row of trees, four 
new houses were being built. Often the construction 
crews, made up mostly of young men, came to the 
pond to eat their box lunches and, sometimes, to 
fish. On several occasions they remained at the site 
long after the sun went down; the lights in the most 
nearly finished house burned; other cars pulled in, 
little rumbling sports cars and shiny sedans, 
motorcycles, even a taxi now and again. There were 
parties that went on into the early morning hours. 
Dornberg had heard music, voices, the laughter of 
women, all of which depressed him, as though this 
jazzy, uncomplicated gaiety — the kind that had no 
cost and generated no guilt — had chosen these 
others over him. The first time he heard it, he was 
standing at the side of his house, near midnight, 
having decided to haul the day's garbage out before 
going to bed (how his life had lately turned upon 
fugitive urges to cleanse and purge and make order!). 
The music stopped him in the middle of his vaguely 
palliative task, and he listened, wondering, thinking 
his senses were deceiving him: a party out in the 
dark, as if the sound of it were drifting down out of 
the stars. 

Some nights when sleep wouldn't come, he 
had stared out his window at the faint shadows of 
the unfinished houses and, finding the one house 
with all its windows lighted, had quietly made his 
way downstairs to the back door and stood in the 
chilly open frame, listening for the music, those 
pretty female voices — the tumult of the reckless, 
happy young. 

- Richard Bausch 


Colleen McElroy 

Colleen j. McElroy lives in Seattle, 
where she is on the faculty of the 
Department of English at the 
University of Washington. She has 
published a number of collections 
of poetry and short stories, and 
writes for stage and television. 
Her most recent publications are 
A Long Way from St. Louis, Driving 
Under the Cardboard Pines (fiction), 
and What Madness Brought Me 
Here: New and Selected Poems, 
1 968-88. A new collection of 
poems, Travelling Music, is forth- 
coming in 1 998. Winner of the 
Before Columbus American Book 
Award, she also has received 
two Fulbright Fellowships, 
a DuPont Fellowship, and a 
Rockefeller Fellowship. Her 
work has been translated into 
Russian, Italian, German, Malay, 
and Serbo-Croatian. 

While Goethe whispered, 
"Light, more light!" as his last 
words, most writers despair 
from wanting: Time, more 
time! We borrow it from our 
families, from ourselves (at 
the expense of our health), 
from jobs that provide us with 
meager amounts of time. 
We long for that reprieve that 
will allow us days of time to 
write, to create, to devote 
ourselves to the artistic 
imagination. As a writer, the 
NEA Fellowship allowed me 
those blessed hours, time 

to explore the realms of the 
imagination, to allow writing 
to be that healthy job that I 
need to sustain myself as an 
artist. It was that rare period 
of time when I could let 
writing and literature 
consume entire days, and I 
think, grow in my craft in 
ways that I cannot when my 
time is divided. It gave me 
the luxury of being a full-time 
writer, and of finishing books 
that time, that elusive 
element, kept at arm's length. 

As a writer; the NEA Fellowship allowed me those blessed hours, 
time to explore the realms of the imagination, to allow writing to 
be that healthy job that I need to sustain myself as an artist. 



The Lover Romanced by Rain 

. . . oh, the bread of colleens butters the rain 

— D. Boucicault, "The Brides of Garryowen' 

you and me 

and a warm rain falling 

Seattle rain 

and my hair wrapped 

in a tight scarf 

the light falling 

like polka dots 

of green shadows 

the pale scents of summer 

dancing in a backdrop of trees 

while each moment falls 

into patterns of yesterdays 

windowpanes of rain 

and you covering the landscape 

from here to the peninsula 

today I am home alone 

the rain has turned hard 

and cruel as your laughter 

the house is soaked and steamy 

it smells dank and moldy 

mud worries the doorway 

milk turns sour with mildew 

I found a moss-covered picture of you 

curled like a dead spider 

in the corner on a dark shelf 

and the rain 

singing like a sleeping pill 

at night the rain is lonely 

and calls me friend 

I cannot remember what you called me 

it has been raining for three months 
rain falling without clouds 
covering Elliott Bay in pale silver light 
falling through a sudden haze of sun 
and I hear the devil's wife 
her moans synchronized to the beat 
while blood showers of red rain 
wash away footprints of dead souls 
and cloak the night with singing stones 

I no longer try to remember your eyes 
I keep my room in the rainfall 
of morning and open my arms 
to the pulse of water 
let tiny trickles wriggle like wet 
fingers past my black belly and down 
into the shallow cup of thighs 
where I drown singing 

it is always raining somewhere 
whenever I dream of you 
your face dissolves in rain 

Colleen McElroy 


Denise Giardina 

Denise Giardina grew up in a 
coal camp in McDowell County, 
West Virginia. She received a 
B.A. in history from West Virginia 
Wesleyan College and an M.Div. 
from Virginia Theological Seminary 
(Episcopal) in Alexandria, Virginia. 
Giardina has published three 
novels, Good King Harry, Storming 
Heaven, and Unquiet Earth. Her 
fourth novel, Saints and Villains, 
is scheduled for publication in 
early 1 998. Storming Heaven was 
a Discovery selection of the Book- 
of-the-Month Club, a New Voices 
selection of the Quality Paperback 
Award for new writers, and 
received the 1 987 W. D. 
Weatherford Award for the 

best published work about the 
Appalachian South. The Unquiet 
Earth received an American Book 
Award from the Before Columbus 
Foundation, and the Lillian Smith 
Award for fiction. Ms. Giardina 
has written op-ed pieces for the 
NewYorkTimes and the Washington 
Post, and wrote about her 
experiences in the Pittston coal 
strike of 1 989-90 for The Nation, 
Southern Exposure and the Village 
Voice. She was the writer-in- 
residence at Hollins College in 
1991, and at various times, she 
has been a teacher, community 
organizer, activist, hospital clerk, 
and is a former Episcopal deacon. 
She now lives in Charleston and 
teaches at West Virginia State 

I have been pleased to be a 
recipient of an NEA fellowship 
for creative writing on two 
separate occasions. Both 
fellowships came at fortuitous 
times and allowed me to 
take time off from other 
employment to finish my 
third and fourth novels. I have 
been especially grateful for 
my most recent fellowship. 
I have recently completed 
a novel, Saints and Villains, to 
be published by W.W. Norton 
in 1 998. For four years I 
struggled to research and 
write this novel about 
German theologian Dietrich 
Bonhoeffer and to teach at 
my local college at the same 
time. Any novelist will tell you 
that without sustained and 
uninterrupted time to think 
and write, the task of finishing 
a book is much more difficult. 
Thanks to the NEA, I was able 
to take half a year off without 
pay. Added to my usual 
summer break, I was able to 
finish half of my manuscript 
in nine months. There is no 
question that without the 
NEA's help, my novel would 
still be far from completion. 

Thanks to the NEA, I was able to. . . finish half of 
my manuscript in nine months. 




Storming Heaven 

Earliest thing I recall from when I was a boy is Daddy coming in 
from the mines and taking his bath. It always scared me when he 
came in. It would be way after dark, and I'd be asleep with Talcott 
and Kerwin in the bed in the front room. Most nights he'd come in 
quiet, just lay himself down, coal dust and all, on a mat behind the 
cookstove in the kitchen, so as not to track dirt into the rest of the 
house. He would be back out before dawn anyway, so there was no 
need to bathe. But on Saturday, Mommy boiled water, rattled coal 
in the buckets to throw on the fire, pulled out the Number Three 
wash tub. I could never sleep through the noise. I always lay on the 
side of the bed next to the door, so I could hang my head over the 
edge and watch her. Daddy would stomp onto the back porch, peel 
off his boots, and bang them against the steps to knock off the crusts 
of mud and coal dust. He stripped off his clothes and left them in a 
heap for Mommy to wash the next day. She never washed his mine 
clothes with the rest of our things. Then Daddy came inside. His 
face and hands were black and shiny; the rest of him was pale and 
waxy like lard. The whites of his eyes were vivid. He tossed his pay 
envelope on the kitchen table. 

"Snake again," was all he would say, meaning he hadn't been 
able to mine enough coal to pay off the bills at the company store, 
that he still owed for food and doctoring and his work tools and 
blasting powder, that his paycheck had a single wavy line where the 
money figures should have been. But I learned about those things 
later. At that age, I thought he meant he had seen a copperhead, and 
that was why his eyes looked so wild and frightful. I lived in terror 
of snakes. 

Daddy sank slowly into the round tub of hot water, moaning as 
he went down. The tub was just large enough for him to sit in if he 
drew up his knees under his chin. The edge of the tub scraped his 
backbone just above his fleshless buttocks. Mommy stood over him 
pouring water from her pots and kettles. She scrubbed his face like 
he was one of us babies but never got all the coal dust off. His face 
was gray on Sundays like a newspaper photograph. 

Denise Giardina 


Jane Hamilton 

Jane Hamilton lives, works, and 
writes in an orchard farmhouse 
in Wisconsin. Her short stories 
have appeared in Harper's 
magazine, and her first book, 
The Book of Ruth, was awarded the 
1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation 
Award for best first novel. The 
Book of Ruth was chosen for the 
Oprah Winfrey book club in 1996. 
Her second novel, A Map of the 
World, was a best seller. 

The NEA fellowship came at 
a point when I desperately 
needed space and quiet and 
time. The fellowship made 
the writer's life possible and 
so saved my life. This sounds 
dramatic, I suppose, but in 
truth the fellowship gave me 
nothing less than possibility 
and hope. With the funds, I 
bought space and quiet and 
time, essential as air for a 
writer and so difficult to come 
by in the work-a-day world. 

With the funds, I bought space and quiet and 
time, essential as air for a writer and so difficult 
to come by in the work-a-day world. 




A Map of the World 

I have thought a fair amount about our farm, about our house that 
was built in 1852. It was still a good house, even though it didn't 
look like much. There are thousands of those houses across the 
Midwest. White clapboard houses with old windmills in their yards, 
many of them standing empty now on the prairies of Kansas and 
Nebraska. They are a series of squares, built according to need. Ours 
are deceptively strong houses, stronger than the winds of a twister, 
determined against insects and drought and long winters, deter- 
mined against time, against all of the generations that have passed 
through them. I have tried to imagine the men and women who have 
broken their bread in our kitchen, and tilled the soil and fallen asleep 
at night, too tired to take their boots off, as I sometimes was. The 
farmer who built our house, Thomas Clausen, kissed his wife good- 
bye and walked off to fight in the Civil War. An old guy down at DePs 
told me about him. When Clausen came back from the war he turned 
the other way and went to California to pan for gold. I don't know if 
his wife and children begrudged him his absences. 

Alice once told me that pioneer women suffered from anorexia, 
that there was evidence that proved it was so. I couldn't imagine 
Thomas Clausen walking up the lane from California only to find his 
wife skin and bones. I was used to thinking of that first family as 
long-suffering but philosophical, wise and robust. I found a picture 
up in the attic of a later family, standing out in front of the house, all 
of them, even the baby, looking grim as hell. I actually don't have too 
much rapture about time past, although Alice has accused me of 
being hopelessly sentimental. There has never been a time of simple 
light. Still, I try to imagine the land for the taking, and what it must 
have meant to have space for as far as the eye can see. The Wisconsin 
Indians in 10,000 B.C., perhaps sleeping right where our yard was, 
hunted mastodon. Mastodon. They ate bison, giant beavers, caribou, 
and elk. It is unthinkable now that anyone could ever have drunk out 
of our rivers and lakes. I don't have the power to imagine what it 
must have been like. I can't even visualize the endless prairie, the vast 
tracks of woodland. I can't hold in my mind long enough to know 
absolutely what we've lost. And so the loss is magnified, knowing, as 
I do, that my powers are poor, and that our world has become 
diminished beyond all measure. 

I have thought about the boy who lived on our farm, Gurdon 
Huck, who in 1908 fell off a hay wagon and broke his neck. I found 
his father's log of weather and planting and harvesting, on the floor 
of our closet. It was under a hatbox like a piece of trash. His last entry 
says, "June 9, 1908. Yesterday our boy fell off the wagon. Broke his 
neck. Dead." I showed the notebook to Dan, but I wasn't willing to 
give it up to the Dairy Shrine. It belongs to the house. In the attic, 
in an old trunk, we found books on agriculture and etiquette and 
religion, a fountain pen, a bag of lace, a cracked platter, a pie tin filled 
with black-and-gray stones. We had no idea who gathered the stones 
or where. We brought them downstairs and set them in the middle of 
our kitchen table. They were smooth as could be. As the weeks went 
on they gathered dust and crumbs and jelly spots. They came to look 
less and less like relics from the ages and more and more like us. 
I cleaned them up and put them back in the attic. 

The people who lived in our house probably considered, as 
most of us do, that our moment is what is real. It wasn't too long after 
we moved to the farm that for me time began to run together. That 
way of seeing probably comes with age. The past seemed to flow into 
the present, in some instances taking over the here and now. It was all 
the traces that made me feel the quickness of passing time, of passing 
generations. Alice wondered what we should do with the old things, 
the laces, the stones, the pens, the books. For her it was a matter of 
deciding between Goodwill and the monthly trash pickup. "They'll 
stay in the attic," I said. I tried to tell her that that pile of stuff served 
as a reminder that we are passersby, nothing more. Yet I also believed 
that those few things in the chest, all of the associations long ago, 
the layers of wallpaper in our bedroom, the journal in the closet — 
all of that experience matters. Alice reiterated that I was an incurable 
romantic. I could only say again that the past, the details of the past, 
in some terrible and impossible ways, matters. I say impossible 
because what seems important today is probably not tomorrow, and 
in any case most everything is lost and forgotten, or else destroyed. 
I stubbornly believed, in the six years we lived on the farm, that the 
people before us in our house left their history to us, knowing that 
we would safeguard it. 

-Jane Hamilton 


Gretel Ehrlich 

Gretel Ehrlich was born in Santa 
Barbara, California and educated 
at Bennington College and 
UCLA Film School. She moved 
to Wyoming in 1 976 where she 
lived and worked on sheep and 
cattle ranches for 17 years. Her 
books include Geode, Rock Body, 
poems, To Touch the Water, poems, 
The Solace of Open Spaces, essays, 
Drinking Dry Clouds, short stories, 
Heart Mountain, novel, Islands, 
The Universe, Home, essays, Arctic 
Heart, poems, A Match to the 
Heart, memoir, Yellowstone, Land 
of Fire and Ice, Questions of Heaven, 
travel memoir. She is at work on 
a book of nonfiction and a volume 
of stories, both for Pantheon. 
In 1987, she was the recipient of 
a Whiting Foundation Award and 
a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988. 
The American Academy of Arts 
and Letters honored her with 
the Harold B.Vurcell Award for 
distinguished prose in 1986. 
She now divides her time between 
the central coast of California 
and Wyoming. 

I applied for an NEA fellowship 
in 1979 or maybe it was 1980, 
after having gone through the 
third worst winter in the 
history ofWyoming alone, 
in a one-room log cabin, with 
very little firewood, no down 
parka, and not much to eat. 
My husband-to-be had died of 
cancer, I'd put in four months 
at a Buddhist monastery, 
returned to Wyoming, and 
took up cowboying to pay 
for rent. Everything has, 
contained within it, the seeds 
of a teaching situation: having 
lost everything, I felt there 
was nothing more to lose. 
What better time to see if 
I had what it took to be a 

The NEA fellowship gave 
me that delicious jumpstart. 
Between cowboying duties, I 
had time to reread the entire 
canon of Asian and western 
literature, Wyoming history, 

and current thinking in 
physics, botany, and ecology. 
Mornings, I read Wallace 
Stevens, Virgil's "Eclogues," 
Robert Lowell, Octavio Paz, 
John Berryman, Li Po, Basho, 
Dogen, and Ikkyu; afternoons, 
I reread Absalom, Absalom!, 
Portrait of a Lady, Winesburg, 
Ohio, The Grapes of Wrath, 
A Hundred Years of Solitude, 
Anna Karenin, Kafka's Parables, 
The Plague, A Farewell to Arms, 
etc., and in the evenings I 
read The History ofWyoming 
by Larson, Emerson, Thoreau, 
Edward Hoagland, Annie 
Dillard, Lewis and Clark, 
and all the wonderful western 
diaries and expedition notes 
from the University of 
Nebraska Press. Finally, I 
began writing. The resulting 
book was The Solace of Open 
Spaces, published by Viking 
Penguin in 1984. 

Between cowboying duties, I had time to reread the. entire 
canon of Asian and western literature, Wyoming history, 
and current thinking in physics, botany, and ecology. 





Looking for a Lost Dog 

I walk and walk. Past the falls, through a pass, 
toward a larger, rowdier creek. The sky goes black. 
In the distance snow on the Owl Creek Mountains 
glares. A blue ocean seems to stretch between, and 
the black sky hangs over like a frown. A string of 
cottonwoods whose new, tender leaves are the color 
of limes pulls me downstream. I come into the 
meadow with the abandoned apple orchard. 
The trees have leaves but have lost most of their 
blossoms. I feel as if I had caught strangers 

The sun comes back, and the wind. It brings 
no dog, but ducks slide overhead. An Eskimo from 
Barrow, Alaska, told me the reason spring has such 
fierce winds is so birds coming north will have 
something to fly on. 

To find what's lost; to lose what's found. 
Several times I've thought I might be "losing my 
mind." Of course, minds aren't literally misplaced — 
on the contrary, we live too much under them. As 
with viewing the falls, we can lose sight of what is too 
close. It is between the distant and close-up views 
that the struggle between impulse and reason, logic 
and passion takes place. 

The feet move; the mind wanders. In his 
journals Thoreau wrote: "The saunterer, in the good 
sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, 
which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest 
course to the sea." 

Today I'm filled with longing — for what I'm 
not, for what is impossible, for people I love who 
can't be in my life. Passions of all sorts struggle 
soundlessly, or else, like the falls, they are all noise 
but can't be seen. My hybrid anguish spends itself 
as recklessly and purposefully as water. 

Now I'm following a game trail up a sidehill. 
It's a mosaic of tracks — elk, bear, rabbit, and bird. 
If city dwellers could leave imprints in the cement, 
it would look this way: tracks would overlap, go 
backward and forward like the peregrine 
saunterings of the mind. 

I see a dog's track, or is it a coyote's? I get 
down on my hands and knees to sniff out a scent. 
What am I doing? I entertain expectations of myself 
as preposterous as when I landed in Tokyo — I felt 
so at home there that I thought I would break into 
fluent Japanese. Now I sniff the ground and smell 
only dirt. If I spent ten years sniffing, would I learn 

The tracks veer off the trail and disappear. 
Descending into a dry wash whose elegant, tortured 
junipers and tumbled boulders resemble a Japanese 
garden, I trip on a sagebrush root. I look. Deep in 
the center of the plant is a bird's nest, but instead 
of eggs, a locust stares up at me. 

Some days I think this one place isn't enough. 
That's when nothing is enough, when I want to live 
multiple lives and be allowed to love without limits. 
Those days, like today, I walk with a purpose but no 
destinations. Only then do I see, at least momen- 
tarily, that everything is here. To my left a towering 
Cottonwood is lunatic with birdsong. Under it I'm 
a listening post while its great gray trunk — like a 
baton or the source of something — heaves its green 
symphony into the air. 

I walk and walk: from the falls, over Grouse 
Hill, to the dry wash. Today it is enough to make 
a shadow. 

- Gretel Ehrlich 



W K I I N Cj A 1V1 ill IX 1 Vj A demonstrates the vitality of the American story. 

Literature is a national art. Work written in Ohio is published in Oregon 
and read throughout the country and around the world. Books tell the stories 
of our lives and help us to understand each other. Through them we can 
appreciate our differences and celebrate our commonalities. At the end of 
the century and at the beginning of the millennium, American books record 
and reflect what it means to be an American alive today. 

After thirty years, the record of the Creative Writing Fellowships shows 
unparalleled support for writers at critical, early stages of their careers. Since 
1967, the American people have invested $33.7 million on American writers. 
The dividends are the thousands of novels, short story collections, essays and 
poems that give voice to the American experience and deepen our culture, 
adding a note of grace in our lives. 

Many of the most acclaimed books of contemporary American literature 
have been written on Endowment fellowships, as this volume demonstrates. 
Since 1990, 27 of the 33 recipients of poetry and fiction awards through the 
Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle 
Award have been previous Arts Endowment fellowship winners. 

This record becomes even more astounding when one realizes that since 1984 
fellowships have been awarded on the basis of anonymous manuscript review; 
panelists do not know the identity of the writers, their publishing histories, 


academic achievements or previous awards. Grants are made on the basis of 
artistic excellence alone. The process of manuscript review lasts seven months, 
undertaken by an annually changing panel of distinguished writers, editors, 
and readers. Each year between two and five percent of eligible applicants 
receive grants. 

From the beginning, literary fellowships were designed to differ from other 
national awards by encouraging new work and allowing emerging writers time 
to write. When they receive the award, most grantees are virtually unknown. 
Only a handful of Americans can make a living from writing; most writers 
hold full-time jobs, and write when they can. Arts Endowment fellowships 
bring national recognition from a writer's peers and afford grantees the 
chance for a short time away from their daily jobs to concentrate on their art. 
WRITINGAMERICA, with a single contribution from each of the United 
States, exemplifies the many chapters of the American story at this time, and 
in this place. I hope you have found, as I did, that you too are in this book. 

- Gigi Bradford 
Literature Director 

To find out more about Creative 
Writing Fellowships, visit our web site 
at or contact 
our Office of Public Information for 
the latest application guidelines. 



The excerpts of essays, fiction, and 
poetry collected in Writing America 
have appeared previously in publica- 
tions as noted below. We gratefully 
acknowledge the cooperation of 
editors, agents, and the authors for 
their permission to reprint these 

Paul Auster's excerpt is from "Why 
Write?" which originally appeared in 
The New Yorker. Copyright © 1995 
by Paul Auster. 

Richard Bausch's excerpt is from 
the story "High-Heeled Shoe" in 
the collection Rare & Endangered 
Species. Published by Vintage Books. 
Copyright © 1995 by Richard 

Sandra Cisneros's "My Lucy 
Friend Who Smell Like Corn" 
is from Woman Hollering Creek 
Copyright © 1991 by Sandra 
Cisneros. Published by Vintage 
Books, a division of Random House, 
Inc. and originally in hardcover 
by Random House, Inc. Reprinted 
by permission of Susan Bergholz 
Literary Services, New York. 
All rights reserved. 

Dennis Covington's excerpt is 
from Salvation on Sand Mountain. 
Published by Addison- Wesley 
Publishing Company. Copyright 
© 1995 Dennis Covington. 

Annie Dillard's excerpt is from 
An American Childhood. Published 
by Harper 8c Row, Publishers, Inc. 
Copyright © 1987 by Annie Dillard. 

Rita Dove's poem "Small Town" is 
from The Yelloiu House on the Corner. 
Published by Carnegie Mellon 
University Press. Copyright © 1993 
by Rita Dove. 

Gretel Ehrlich's excerpt from 
"Looking for a Lost Dog" was 
published in The Gray wolf Annual 
Three: Essays, Memoirs, and 
Reflections. Published by Graywolf 
Press, first appeared in New Age 
Journal. Copyright © 1986 by 
Gretel Ehrlich. 

Richard Ford's excerpt is from the 
essay "My Mother, In Memory" 
which appeared in a different form 
in Harper's magazine. Copyright 
© 1997 by Richard Ford. 

Ernest Gaines's excerpt is from 
his novel A Lesson Before Dying. 
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 
Copyright © 1993 by Ernest Gaines. 

Denise Giardina's excerpt is from 
the novel Storming Heaven. 
Published by WW Norton 8c Co. 
Copyright©1987 by Denise Giardina. 

Kaye Gibbons's excerpt is from her 
novel Ellen Foster. Published by 
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 
Copyright © 1987 by Kaye Gibbons. 

Diane Glancy's excerpt is from the 
story "Lead Horse" which appeared 
in Earth Song, Sky Spirit: Short 
Stories of the Contemporary Native 
American Experience. Published 
by Doubleday. Copyright © 1992 
hy Diane Glancy. 

Louise Gliick's poem is one of several 
interwoven works entitled "Vespers" 
in The Wild Iris. Published by 
The Ecco Press. Copyright © 1992 
by Louise Gliick. 

Albert Goldbarth's poem "Futures" 
first appeared in Gettysburg Review. 
Copyright © 1996 by Albert 

Linda Gregg's poem "To Be Here" 
is from The Sacraments of Desire. 
Published by Graywolf Press. 
Copyright © 1991 by Linda Gregg. 

John Haines's excerpt is from 
The Stars, The Snow, The Fire. 
Published by Graywolf Press. 
Copyright © 1989 by John Haines 

Jane Hamilton's excerpt is from her 
novel A Map of the World. Published 
by Doubleday. Copyright © 1994 
by Jane Hamilton. 

Ron Hansen's excerpt is from 
"Nebraska" in the collection also 
entitled Nebraska. Published by 
Atlantic Monthly Press. Copyright 
© 1989 by Ron Hansen. 

Joy Harjo's poem "Perhaps the 
World Ends Here" is from The 
Women Who Fell From the Sky. 
Published by WW. Norton & Co. 
Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. 

Michael S. Harper's poem "We 
Assume: On the Death of Our Son, 
Reuben Masai Harper" appears in 
Images of Kin: New iff Selected Poems. 
Published by the University of 
Illinois Press. Copyright © by 
Michael S. Harper. 

Linda Hogan's poem "Drum" 
is from The Book of Medicines. 
Published by Coffee House Press. 
Copyright © 1993 by Linda Hogan. 

Teresa Jordan's poem "Old Anne" 
is featured in Buckaroo: Visions 
and Voices of the American Cowboy. 
Published by the Western Folklife 
Center. Copyright © 1997 by Teresa 

Maxine Hong Kingston's excerpt is 
from her novel Tripmaster Monkey — 
His Fake Book. Published by Alfred 
A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1989 
by Maxine Hong Kingston. 

William Kittredge's excerpt is from 
"The Politics of Storytelling" which 
appeared in the anthology Northern 
Lights. Published by Vintage Books. 
Copyright © 1994 by William 


Maxine Kumin's poem "Appetite" is 
from The Long Approach. Published 
by Viking. Copyright © 1985 by 
Maxine Kumin. 

Li-Young Lee's poem "This Hour 
and What is Dead" is from The City 
in Which I Love You. Published by 
BOA Editions, Ltd. Copyright 
© 1990 by Li-Young Lee. 

Philip Levine's poem "You Can Have 
It" is from Seven Years from Some- 
where. Published by Atheneum. 
Copyright © 1993 by Philip Levine. 

Susan Ludvigson's poem "Grace" 
is from Everything Winged Must Be 
Dreaming. Published by LSU Press. 
Copyright © 1993 by Susan 

Bobbie Ann Mason's excerpt is 
from her novel In Country. Published 
by Harper 8c Row, Inc. Copyright 
© 1985 by Bobbie Ann Mason. 

J.D. McClatchy's poem "Bees" is 
from Stars Principal. Published by 
Macmillan Publishing Company. 
Copyright © 1986 by J.D. McClatchy. 

Colleen McElroy's poem "The 
Lover Romanced by Rain" appears 
in What Madness Brought Me Here: 
New and Selected Poems, 1968-1988. 
Published by Wesleyan University 
Press. Copyright © 1990 by Colleen 

David Mura's excerpt is from 
Turning Japanese: Memoirs of 
a Sansei. Published by Anchor 
Doubleday. Copyright © 199 1 
by David Mura. 

Dan O'Brien's excerpt is from the 
novel In the Center of the Nation. 
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press. 
Copyright © by Dan O'Brien. 

Linda Pastan's poem "To a 
Daughter Leaving Home" is 
from The Imperfect Paradise. 
Published by W. W. Norton 8c Co., 
Copyright © 1988 by Linda Pastan. 

Robert Pinsky's poem "The Street 
of Furthest Memory" is from 
Sadness and Happiness. Published 
by Princeton University Press. 
Copyright © 1975 by Robert Pinsky. 

Alberto Puos's poem "True Story of 
the Pins" is from Whispering to Fool 
the Wind. Published by The Sheep 
Meadow Press. Copyright © 1987 
by Alberto Rios. 

Ira Sadoff's poem "Pemaquid Point" 
is from Emotional Traffic. Published 
by David Godine Books. Copyright 
© 1989 by Ira Sadoff. 

Scott Russell Sanders's excerpt from 
the essay "Landscape and Imagina- 
tion" was published in Secrets of the 
Universe. Published by Beacon Press, 
Boston. Copyright © 1991 by Scott 
Russell Sanders. 

Jane Smiley's excerpt is from her 
novel A Thousand Acres. Published 
by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright 
©1991 Jane Smiley. 

W.D. Snodgrass's poem "A Seashell" 
appeared in Selected Poems 1957- 
1987. Published by SOHO Press. 
Copyright © 1987 by W.D. 

Cathy Song's poem "Picture Bride" 
is from Picture Bride. Published by 
Yale University Press. Copyright 
© 1983 by Cathy Song. 

Kim Stafford's excerpt is from the 
essay "December Meditation at 
Camp Polk Cemetery" in Having 
Everything Right: Essays of Place. 
Published by Penguin USA. 
Copyright © 1987 by Kim Stafford. 

Mark Strand's poem "Life in the 
Valley" is from The Continuous Life. 
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 
Copyright © 1990 by Mark Strand. 

Mona Van Duyn's poem "Notes 
from a Suburban Heart" appeared 
in If It Be Not I: Collected Poems, 
1959-1982. Published by Alfred 
A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 
by Mona Van Duyn. 

Alice Walker's story "The Flower" 
is part of the collection In Love and 
Trouble. Published by Harcourt 
Brace. Copyright © 1973 by 
Alice Walker. 

Larry Watson's excerpt is from his 
novel Justice. Published by Milkweed 
Editions. Copyright © 1995 by 
Larry Watson 

Joy Williams's excerpt is from 
her story "The Yard Boy" which is 
part of the collection Taking Care. 
Published by Vintage Books, 
originally in hardcover by Random 
House, Inc. Copyright © 1985 by 
Joy Williams. 

CD. Wright's poem "King's 
Daughters, Home for Unwed 
Mothers, 1948" is from String Light. 
Published by The University of 
Georgia Press. Copyright © 1991 
by CD. Wright. 

Charles Wright's poem "Driving 
Through Tennessee" is from 
The Southern Cross. Published 
by Random House, Inc. Copyright 
© 1981 by Charles Wright. 

Robert Wrigley's poem "Field 
Burning: A Full Moon," is from 
In The Bank of Beautiful Sins. 
Published by Penguin, USA. 
Copyright © 1995 by Robert Wrigley. 



Published by 

Office of Communications 

Cherie Simon, Director 

Designed by 

Cox & Associates, Inc. 

Silver Spring, MD 

Edited by 
Keith Donohue 
Publications Director 

With special thanks to 

Gigi Bradford and Cliff Becker 

This book was printed using 
private donated funds. 


National Endowment for the Arts 
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, DC 20506-0001 



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