By Lee Baird, Grants Analyst/Director of Literary Arts –
The winners of this year’s Individual Artist Fellowships in literature lend their unique voices to our great tradition of Tennessee literature, and we are all the better for it.
Dr. Allison Varnes is this year’s recipient of the Children’s/Young Adult fellowship. She is the Assistant Director of the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Tennessee. She has known she wanted to be a writer since she was twelve years old, and eight years of reading middle-grade books aloud while teaching students with disabilities led to the realization that she wanted children’s literature to be her focus. Today she writes in the narrative voice of a twelve-year-old girl. Perhaps, not unlike the twelve-year-old she once was writing stories on the school bus.
She says, “My novels have empowerment and activism themes because kids often feel powerless. I write about the awkward middle-grade years when kids struggle to find their identity, which often falls somewhere between who their parents think they are, and the version of themselves they long to be. To do this, I wear retainers when writing to channel my inner twelve-year-old.” She is hard at work on her third middle-grade novel. Learn more about her.
This year’s Poetry Fellowship recipient, Christian Collier, feels it is important to write about the different dynamics that have impacted and continue to influence his life. His versatility as a poet makes him equally adept at both conventional written poetry and spoken word performance. This has afforded him opportunities to read in academic settings and spoken word venues for diverse audiences that crossed the ethnic and generational spectrum, allowing him to bridge the divide that traditionally separates the two poetic forms.
Christian will use the Fellowship award to pursue an MFA with the goal of teaching at the university level. He says, “… to be recognized in the place I call home has allowed me to feel seen. Also, this award signals to my family and me that all the rigor, practice, execution, etc. that has gone into building my poetics has been worthwhile.” His book Greater Ghost is forthcoming from Four Way Books. Learn more about him.
Fiction Fellowship Recipient Monic Ductan’s work is inspired and informed by an upbringing in a working-class Black family in Rural Georgia. An assistant professor at Tennessee Tech, she writes about Southern towns and people who struggle with economic anxiety and racial prejudice. Monic has also been generous enough to share her expertise by serving on the Literary Arts Grant Review Panel for several years. *
She says. “My goal is to create realistic depictions of everyday people. My philosophy is to write about the pain and injustices around me to help readers see that none of us is ever alone in our suffering.” Her book of stories, Daughters of Muscadine, is forthcoming from the University Press of Kentucky this fall. Learn more about her.
Please join me in congratulating this year’s literary fellows.
* The adjudicator for the Literary Fellowship was unaware of Ms. Ductan’s work with the Tennessee Arts Commission.