Congratulations! Earlier this month, it was announced that Tammy Greenwood-Stewart was chosen for the Individual Artist Award for her fiction. The fiction category is offered every other year, and it was Tammy’s second time applying for the grant and her first time receiving the award. Here is a description of the award from the MSAC press release:
BALTIMORE, MD (February 7, 2008) – In celebration of the 10th annual Maryland Arts Day, Governor Martin O’Malley today announced that 97 Maryland artists have been selected to receive Individual Artist Awards totaling $250,000 from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The artists competed for $1,000, $3,000 and $6,000 awards in the following categories: Dance Solo Performance, Fiction, Media, Solo Instrumental Performance, Solo Vocal Performance, Solo Theatre Performance, Computer Arts, Photography and Sculpture.
In an email interview, Tammy thoughtfully answered my questions about her excitement for her newest honor, her current projects, and how much she loves teaching at GW.
What was the application/competition like and what did you have to submit for consideration?
The competition for this grant is based exclusively on a writing sample, which is judged anonymously. That is, the author’s name does not appear on the manuscript. I think this encourages a decision based purely on the merit of the work (rather than the reputation — or lack thereof — associated with the author’s name). I submitted a portion of a novel-in-progress called (for now) The Hungry Season.
Besides the honor and the prize money, will you have any ongoing responsibilities for the Maryland Arts Council as a part of the award?
I don’t think so. My understanding is that the money awarded is simply to create an opportunity to buy time to work more. For me, this means a summer without my “day-job” of teaching and editing, and time to dedicate to my next novel.
Have you won many other awards, and if so, are you particularly proud of this newest accomplishment?
I always joke that I’m better at writing grants than I am at writing novels, because I think I’ve made more money from fellowships and grants than I have from advances on my books. Actually, I have probably just been more diligent in seeking out funds available to writers. I have received awards from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. This grant means a lot to me, as they all have, because it validates the work that I do in a way that simultaneously financially enables me to pursue my writing.
Additionally, I was hoping you could tell me more about what you’re currently working on: What types of projects do you have lined up?
My next novel, Two Rivers, will be published in February of 2009 by Kensington Books. I have a two-book contract with them, so I am now working on The Hungry Season, the book I mentioned before. It’s a big messy mess of a draft right now, but I am excited about where it’s headed. I write about Vermont a lot (that’s where I’m from), and this novel returns to the fictional lake I imagined in my first novel. Some of the characters from that novel resurface in this one as well. It’s a book about a family in the aftermath of the death of their teenage daughter, but, on a greater level, it is about all of the various manifestations of hunger: hunger for food, hunger for sex, hunger for love, hunger for what is lost, and hunger for success and celebrity. And it is also about the effects of starvation: of the body, of the mind, and of the soul.
Every summer I take my two daughters to Vermont to our summer cottage (we call it “camp”) which is the basis of the fictional setting of the novel. This summer I plan to use my time there to really finish up the novel and imbue it with all the necessary geographical details. It’s also a quiet place, and one of the few places where I seem to be able to avoid distraction.
I noticed you have also taken up photography? How do writing and photography work together for you creatively?
I used to dabble in photography in college, but I was so focused on my writing that I sort of let it fall by the wayside. Recently I bought myself a really nice digital SLR camera and started taking pictures again, and all the excitement and joy I used to experience in the darkroom came back (without needing a darkroom!). I think that writing and photography are both very similar and very different artistic endeavors. Each product (the novels, my photos) are windows into the way I see the world. I also tend to focus on the minutiae in my writing, the simple things. I do so in my photography as well.
Photography has actually also provided a necessary break from writing for me. And the product is so instantaneous. My last novel took five years to write. I put together my first photo exhibit in about eight months. I am still very much a novice, though, and I feel like I am still figuring out who I am as an artist. Because I am a self-taught photographer, I don’t have the same confidence in my photographs as I do in my writing.
And, your time at GW— Which classes do you teach? Do you enjoy them?
I teach 81: Introduction to Creative Writing and 103: Intermediate Fiction. I love teaching both of these classes. I really find so much pleasure in watching students discover their voices and watch as their stories bloom. Even the students who never thought they could write creatively are able to produce something they are proud of over the course of the semester.
What do you think of the GW students you find in your classes? Is there anything unique about the types of GW students you’ve had?
GW students are so driven. That is the key difference between them and other students I have had at other universities. And it’s not just grades they are concerned about; they really, really want to take away as much as they can from every class. I get the sense that they all appreciate the unique learning opportunity they have at GW. They’re also very, very smart. I don’t find myself struggling to teach them the mechanical aspects of writing coherently. This allows us to focus on the creative process (without getting bogged down in grammar).