Filled with people, smiles and laughter, the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House was set for a night of beautiful prose and poetry on Friday.
The epicenter of the NYU Creative Writing program hosted a reading that featured the 2012 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards winners.
The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program was created in 1995 by the celebrated late author. Grants of $30,000 are given to female writers of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry who showed talent and promise in the early stages of their careers. This year, six writers were awarded grants.
“I’m amazed … by Rona Jaffe’s incredible generosity,” said Rachel Swearingen, one of the award winners. “Writing is such a solitary experience, and the thought of this community will be a great source of support for me.”
Each award winner had the opportunity to present an excerpt from their work. Julia Elliot, a fiction writer, was the first to read. She draws inspiration from the legacy of her family, where, according to Elliot, the “old southern tradition of hyperbolic storytelling, tall tales, yarns and lies, has always been alive and well.”
Elliot was followed by Christina Nichol, who read an excerpt from “Waiting for the Electricity,” her first novel, which is set in the Republic of Georgia. The grant Nichol received will help her travel and work on two other literary pieces.
“[I plan to] revisit some of the places that originally inspired these stories, paying attention to those details that shake up old assumptions and reveal new possibilities of what it means to be human,” Nichol said.
The only poet among the winners, Lauren Goodwin Slaughter, read several poems at the event. Slaughter’s poetry brings a playful perspective to its subjects, drawing inspiration from sources ranging from Facebook to religious hymns.
“[I love the] visual elements of poetry, the fun of trying different forms and structures,” Slaughter said.
The night ended with readings by Kim Tingley and Inara Verzemnieks, both creative nonfiction writers. Tingley read an excerpt from her book about the early history of Florida. A former journalist, Verzemnieks, read from her latest piece “The Last Days of the Baldock,” which is about homeless individuals who resided at an interstate rest stop close to Portland, Ore.
Verzemnieks expanded on the idea of what this award means for her and her work.
“When you have fallen in love with a particular subject, when you are waking up in the middle of the night thinking about it, composing sentences when you should be asleep … it’s so hard to focus on anything else,” Verzemnieks said. “[This award] will allow all of us to follow our passions, to devote ourselves completely to this thing that has gotten a hold of us.”
CAS freshman Megan Rafferty was in awe after the reading.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was absolutely blown away by these award winners,”
A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 24 print edition. Priya Kamdar is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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