From Lee Baird, Director of Literary Arts & Grants Analyst –
This year the Tennessee Arts Commission was pleased to award three Individual Artist Fellowships in Literature. The fellowships are five thousand dollars each and are awarded for artistic excellence and are not geared towards a specific project. This year was an exciting one for the Literary Arts department as we offered our second annual prize in Children’s/Young Adult Literature in addition to our usual Fiction and Poetry categories. Other literary categories may be offered in the future on a rotating basis. One of this year’s fellows won on her sixteenth time applying. Perseverance pays off. Here’s a bit about this year’s class of awardees. I encourage you to seek out their work and support the literary arts in Tennessee.
Thandiwe Shiphrah is a multidisciplinary teaching artist from Nashville who has been publishing poetry and prose for more than twenty-five years. Thematically, her writings explore the dynamics of human relationships and the joys and challenges of everyday life. She won this year’s fellowship with a character-driven book of poetry for middle-grade youth. The poems are written in the voices of three friends who get together after school to write poems and songs: Rudy Rhythm is an aspiring poet and singer/ songwriter; Maxwell is a budding photographer; and Alicia is a future mechanical engineer. On winning the award Thandiwe says, “I have been writing and performing stories and poems for young audiences for many years. I have long wanted to write and illustrate a book for young readers to encourage them to embrace their creativity and express themselves artistically. Now I can further my development in the art and craft of writing for children and devote more time to creating texts and illustrations for the project. The fellowship will not only assist my efforts to encourage participation in the arts, but it will also expand my possibilities in the field of children’s literature.”
Poet Kristen Robertson’s work includes lyric free verse poetry, narrative poetry, received forms such as sonnets and villanelles, prose poetry, and many hybrids and experiments. The publisher of her first book, Surgical Wing says her poems “challenge the internal and external metamorphoses of the human condition and the juxtaposition between death and life by personifying the soul through images of birds.” And her latest work “Lottery,” examines the definition of the windfall and all its manifestations and the complicated relationships people have with the inevitability of chance. Kristen, an assistant professor at Tennessee Wesleyan University, describes her work as, “Firmly rooted in the Southern gothic tradition with hints of magical realism, and influenced by poets such as Claudia Emerson and Yusef Komunyakaa…” Her plans for the award include artist residencies, workshops and conferences, and submission fees. She says “I anticipate the Individual Artist Fellowship will be life-changing for me. A poet’s second collection represents a commitment to the art beyond apprenticeship and debut. This award will enable me to establish intent, to stretch beyond the threshold of a beginner into what will hopefully be years of curiosity and bewilderment culminating in many more collections of poetry.”
Yurina Yoshikawa feels that fiction allows her to get closer to the complicated emotional truths. She believes, “As a writer, especially in fiction, “complicated” is a good thing. It’s where I want my characters to linger, so that they can confront difficult truths about themselves that they might otherwise ignore.” For the past several years she has been publishing stories and essays that deal with Japanese identity while living abroad. One such essay won the Tennessee True Stories Contest and another story, “Invader”, was a runner-up in the Pinch Literary Awards. The Pinch judges commented, “‘Invader’ excavated the middle ground between belonging and longing, branching the two states and weaving a narrative for a path forward.” In addition to writing and receiving awards, Yurina has been a writing instructor at the Porch Writers Collective in Nashville. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University.
Please join me in congratulating this year’s winners.