Applying for Creative Writing Fellowships: 3 Questions with Writer Leah Griesmann

Mar 16, 2018

Applying for Creative Writing Fellowships: 3 Questions with Writer Leah Griesmann

Creative writing fellowships can provide funding, support, structure, and community to fellows while they pursue their writing. Residencies provide writers the time and space they need to work on a creative project, while workshops and conferences give writers the opportunity to hone their craft with accomplished authors. Because creative writing tends to be a solitary pursuit, often resorted to in the late night or early morning hours between day jobs, a creative writing fellowship can provide the most beneficial conditions for completing a book.

Leah Griesmann, a recipient of many creative writing fellowships and awards, was able to secure funding early in her writing career to write stories that would feature in her first collection. We spoke with Leah about her experiences as a creative writing fellow and her tips for submitting a strong application for these awards.

1. What are some creative writing fellowships you have been awarded and what did they allow you to do?

Probably the most impactful fellowship I received was the Steinbeck Fellowship for Fiction at San Jose State University, which gives writers a year to work on a creative writing project. The Steinbeck Fellowship was wonderful because the only structure was attending meetings on our writing projects with helpful faculty members, giving a literary reading for the university community each semester, and attending occasional scheduled class presentations with university students. With this limited structure, the fellowship really just gives writers time to write.

During that year, I completed the draft of a novel, and the drafts of several Las Vegas-based stories that would become my story collection, Stripped. I would never have been able to complete those works of fiction without the Steinbeck Fellowship. I also learned how valuable fellowships are to creative writers. Since then, I have received other fellowships such as the MacDowell Colony Fellowship in Fiction, scholarships and fellowships to writing conferences such as the Virginia Quarterly Review Writers’ Conference, the Key West Writers Workshops, and the Writers in Paradise Conference at Eckerd College, as well as several international residencies and grants.

2. How have these fellowships been beneficial to your writing career?

These opportunities have been incredibly beneficial to my writing career. Some of the fellowships, like the Steinbeck Fellowship and the MacDowell Colony Fellowship, have offered time and support (both structurally and/or financially) to work on writing. The international residencies such as the Swatch Art Peace Hotel Residency in Shanghai offered time and space to work on a creative project in an inspiring place. Other writing conference fellowships, such as the one I recently received to the Writers in Paradise Conference at Eckerd College give an intense period of time to work with a celebrated fiction writer in a workshop setting, and attend readings and panels on writing. Unlike residencies, creative writing conferences are usually structured to provide critical feedback on drafts, as well as connections to the writing and publishing world. All of these opportunities—fellowships, residencies, conferences— have been extremely beneficial to my fiction writing—helping me to complete short stories and fashion them into a finished book.

3. What tips would you give to others applying to creative writing fellowships?

It may seem like simple advice, but I think it’s really important to familiarize yourself with the mission of any organization and fellowship you are applying to. If you are applying for a creative writing fellowship, what exactly is the fellowship offering? Is the fellowship offering time, an unstructured or structured environment, a virtual or locational component, workshops or readings, complete solitude or community involvement? What exactly is the purpose of the fellowship, and does your project (and your creative writing practice) really fit into that scheme?  Will you actually be productive working for eight hours a day in a snowy cabin in the woods, or are you a city person who needs a more social environment? Don’t just apply to opportunities randomly—pick a few that you think would be a great fit for you and your project.

In regards to the application process, it’s been my experience that the overwhelming majority of creative writing fellowships, grants, and residencies say that the writing sample is their primary criteria for selection. Therefore, rather than spending too much time on a lengthy project description or outside documentation and research, it’s important to apply with your most realized and polished creative work. After all, the writing itself is typically the heart of the creative writing fellowship—that’s what it’s really about.

A final tip I might give to U.S.-based writers would be to expand your search for opportunities outside the U.S. Many countries (notably within Europe and Asia) have been increasing funding for creative artists and writers, including those from the U.S. Look into Germany, Switzerland, China, and Japan. For writers able and willing to travel, there’s a whole world of funding as well as new insights to gain that can only deepen your writing.

Leah GriesmannLeah Griesmann has received grants and residencies for her fiction from the MacDowell Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, the Key West Writers’ Workshops, the DAAD (Berlin), the Virginia Quarterly Review Writers’ Conference, The Writers in Paradise Conference, as well as a Steinbeck Fellowship in Fiction. Her fiction has appeared in PEN Center USA’s The Rattling Wall, J Journal: New Writing on Justice, and The Weekly Rumpus, among other publications, and has been read or performed at The Center for Literary Arts, Lit Quake San Francisco, Sacramento Stories on Stage, the New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood, and the Shanghai American Center. Her linked, Las Vegas-based story collection Stripped was recently named a finalist for the Hudson Prize in Fiction and the St. Lawrence Book Award at Black Lawrence Press. She currently teaches writing at Seoul National University.

© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.