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Writers can apply for $25,000 fellowships
By Chris Barnett / July 16, 2015 /   Loading Disqus...

Rhode Island writers who dream of spending a year working on their craft have until Aug. 7 to apply for $25,000 fellowships from the Rhode Island Foundation.

Established in 2003, the Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund awards up to three grants a year, rotating among composers, writers and visual artists on a three-year cycle. They are considered to be among the largest no-strings-attached grants available to writers in the United States.

The fellowships are intended to free writers to concentrate time on their creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work and explore new directions. Over the years, the Foundation has awarded 30 grants totaling $750,000.

“Our financial support enables local writers to spend their time making art rather than making ends meet. That honors the importance that the MacColl Johnsons placed on the role of writers in the community,” said Daniel Kertzner, the Foundation’s senior philanthropic advisor for funding partnerships.

Applicants must have been legal residents of Rhode Island for at least 12 months prior to the Aug. 7 application deadline. High school students, undergraduate and graduate students who are enrolled in a degree-granting program and writers who have advanced levels of career achievement are not eligible.

Applicants will be judged on the quality of the work samples, artistic development and the creative contribution to the field of writing, as well as the potential of the fellowship to advance the careers of emerging and mid-career writers. Applications will be accepted from writers creating new original work including novels, short stories, plays and poetry.

Although the grants are unrestricted, recipients are expected to devote concentrated time to their art during the term of the fellowship and to engage in activities that further their artistic growth. Examples include creating new work, training in technologies or techniques, purchasing equipment or materials, travel, research and developing artistic endeavors.

Previous recipients of writing fellowships include Marie Myung-Ok Lee, a visiting lecturer at Brown University whose first novel, “Somebody’s Daughter,” will be followed next year by a look at the future of medicine; and Michael Morse, the former Providence firefighter who authored "Rescue Providence" and "Mr. Wilson Makes It Home."

According to Morse, his fellowship gave him more than just the resources to devote more time to writing.

"When that phone call came in, it was kind of like a big door opening for me. I was like, 'my God, I must actually be a writer,'" Morse recalled. "It really did give me a lot more confidence, a little peace of mind, that what I was doing was going to be accepted eventually in a mainstream way." 

This year’s recipients will be selected by a panel of four out-of-state jurors who are recognized practicing artists and arts professionals. The panel will also name up to three finalists. While this designation does not carry a monetary award, it does reflect a formal recognition of the merit of their artistic work.

Rhode Islanders Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson were both dedicated to the arts all their lives. Mrs. Johnson, who died in 1990, earned a degree in creative writing from Roger Williams College when she was 70. Mr. Johnson invented a new process for mixing metals in jewelry-making and then retired to become a fulltime painter. Before he died in 1999, Johnson began discussions with the Foundation that led to the creation of the MacColl Johnson fellowships in music composition, literature and visual arts.

The fellowships are partially underwritten by the Madeline B. Standish Fund, created in 2010 to support the work of writers and artists.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island.  In 2014, the Foundation awarded $34.8 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.

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