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WRITI NG AMERICA
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS
A MILLENNIUM ARTS PROJECT
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS
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
Maxine Hong Kingston
Scott Russell Sanders
Michael S. Harper
Bobbie Ann Mason
Charles Wright ,
Linda Pas tan
Mona Van Duyn
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
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.
THE WRITER'S PLACE
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 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 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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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 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.
"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
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 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
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
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,
inside the unmapped terrain
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
to new life, backward
to deliver ourselves to rain and river,
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
They'll break with the past
as with an enemy.
The flowers cry to them.
* * *
Left behind, in clover's
a solitary honeybee
plies her trade.
Circumspect, all twelve
thousand eyes are trained
on her needlework:
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.
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 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
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 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.
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
The small NEA grant encouraged me to believe
someone other than myself valued what I was doing.
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
And the summer was over.
- Alice Walker
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
[This fellowship] means a great deal to me.
It means I live in a country that refuses to be
shut down, numbed, silenced...
She was a year younger
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
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 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 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
. . .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
- Scott Russell Sanders
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 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
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
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.
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.
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 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
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
(virtually all our major
publishers and bookstores
are owned by such
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
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.
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 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
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
for your life, screaming
the hair flapping
behind you like a
- Linda Pastan
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 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.
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 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.
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.
But none of this had much to do with me.
After all, I was a poet.
- David Mura
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, 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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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 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
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 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
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
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-
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
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
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 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."
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
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 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.
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
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
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 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
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 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
I was able to regard the fellowship as
a "nest egg," so that. . . I could live frugally
and write full time for a year.
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 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.
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
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 —
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
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-
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
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.
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
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
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.
On the Death of Our Son,
Reuben Masai Harper
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.
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
gone into autopsy,
a fine brown powdered sugar,
a disposable cremation:
you did not know we loved you.
- Michael S. Harper
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
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 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.
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
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 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 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
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 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 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
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
I am convinced that subsequent work owes
much to that time, to the. . . respite from an
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 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
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
It was like a prod from on high, like notice from the
universe that I was expected to get back to work.
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
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,
- Richard Bausch
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
- 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
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
To find out more about Creative
Writing Fellowships, visit our web site
at http://arts.endow.gov 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
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
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
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
Larry Watson's excerpt is from his
novel Justice. Published by Milkweed
Editions. Copyright © 1995 by
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
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.
Office of Communications
Cherie Simon, Director
Cox & Associates, Inc.
Silver Spring, MD
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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