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Three local writers receive $25,000 fellowships
By Chris Barnett / March 1, 2016 /   Loading Disqus...
Rhode Island writers Julie Danho O’Connell, Sussy Santana and Susannah Strong have been awarded $25,000 fellowships by the Rhode Island Foundation through the Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund. The program is considered to be one of the largest no-strings-attached awards available to writers in the United States.

The fund provides fellowships each year, rotating among composers, writers and visual artists on a three-year cycle. The $25,000 awards enable artists to concentrate time on the creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work and explore new directions. Since 2005, the Foundation has awarded $825,000 to 33 composers, writers and visual artists.

“Our fellowships provide significant financial support that enables these artists to further their work,” said Daniel Kertzner, senior philanthropic advisor for funding partnerships who oversees the Foundation’s grantmaking in the arts. “They provide Rhode Island artists with the precious commodities of time and money so they can spend more time developing their craft. They echo the value the MacColl Johnsons placed on the role of artists in the community.”

Danho O’Connell of North Providence has received several Fellowships in Poetry from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Her chapbook, Six Portraits, won the 2013 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition, and her poems have appeared in publications including Barrow Street, Southern Poetry Review and West Branch.

“The best poems insist that we make a leap into the unknown. I write poetry to discover and experience these leaps for myself and, hopefully, to enter the conversation begun by the poets who inspire me,” she said. “These leaps of imagination bridge our experiences with those of the poet. This is deeply personal and strikes at the core of what it means to be human.”

Danho O’Connell plans to use her fellowship to take time off from her work for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to write, do research, attend conferences and organize poetry readings.

Santana of Providence serves on the board of directors at AS220 and has performed at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in Boston, Trinity Rep, United Palace and Dartmouth College. A native of the Dominican Republic, her first book of poetry is "Pelo Bueno y otros poemas (Good Hair and other poems)."

"Immigration inspires me because it comes with the possibility of imagining yourself in a different place, it takes you out of context. It teaches you about resilience; and when you add learning another language to the mix, it gives you the opportunity to become another you. It merges heartbreak and hope, I find that truly fascinating," she said.

Santana plans to use her fellowship to rent studio time and to concentrate on finishing a collection of poems exploring themes of womanhood and the creative self as well as her first work of fiction.

Strong of Exeter is an Assistant Professor of Art at Salve Regina University. She earned a BFA in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, a master’s degree in visual art at Goldsmiths College/University of London, and a MFA in illustration at Hartford Art School, where she received the Murray Tinkelman Illustration Award.

“As an emerging graphic novelist, I desire to craft rich and complex relationships between words and images in the service of telling stories. I write and draw both graphic novels and comics, finding them uniquely powerful mediums through which to explore and express my voice,” she said.

Strong plans to use her fellowship to reduce her course load at Salve in order to spend more time working on her graphic novel as well as producing a body of shorter works.

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 recipients were chosen from nearly 200 applicants by a panel of four out-of-state jurors who are recognized practicing writers and editors. Applications were reviewed based on the quality of the work, artistic development and creative contribution to the field of writing, as well as the potential of the fellowship to advance the career of emerging to mid-career writers.

The panel also named three finalists, who received no cash award: Tina Egnoski of Barrington, whose latest project is a collection of eight stories based on Polish folk tales; Kimberly Fusco of Foster, whose first novel, “Tending to Grace,” was awarded the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award; and David O’Connell of North Providence, a poet whose work has appeared in the Bryant Literary Review, Columbia Poetry Review and North American Review.

Applications for the 2016 fellowships, which will be awarded to visual artists, will be available on the Foundation’s website after July 1.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2015, the Foundation awarded $41.5 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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