By Gabriel Brison-Trezise
Elizabeth Rogers and Natalie Shapero each have a debut collection of poetry slated for release next spring; each holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree; and now, the pair have something else in common: they are the inaugural Kenyon Review fellows.
The Kenyon Review Fellowships, modeled on those awarded by John Crowe Ransom in the 1950s, were the brainchild of David Lynn, Kenyon Review editor and professor of English. Several years ago, I was looking at the overall trajectory of what we do at the Kenyon Review in terms of discovering and supporting younger writers, Lynn said.
While the Review holds summer workshops for both high-school students and more experienced writers and, through internships and its associates program, provides Kenyon students with ways to get involved with the journal, Lynn said he found a hole in the Reviews curriculum. The one missing piece was this opportunity for really talented people who are post-MFA or post-Ph.D. to spend a couple of years working on an extended writing project and getting professional experience, he said.
Lynn said he and fellow Professor of English Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky devised a proposal approximately two years ago to create the Fellowship program. We presented first to the Kenyon Review Board of Trustees and then to the College administration and then finally to the English department, and at each stage we listened, we explained, we changed the proposal in order to meet the concerns and the ideas of those different groups, he said.
The final proposal was approved around a year and a half ago.
Rogers and Shapero began their two-year terms as fellows in August. Shapero, however, is no stranger to Gambier, having taught at past Review workshops. I kind of always knew what was happening with [the Review], and I saw that they had this fellowship, she said. Its a pretty rare program in the creative writing world that gives you so much time and space to do your own writing but also gives you some teaching experience and gets you involved in literary publishing.
In addition to performing editorial and production work for the Review, the fellows will embark on their own writing projects, with mentoring from Kenyon faculty members. Rogers forthcoming book Chord Box will be published next year. Shapero said her first collection, No Object, which will be published in March, deals with human relationship to animals, which is often one of subjugation. Shapero is already working on a second book of poetry surrounding the commemoration of tragic events.
I think that making a manuscript of poems into a book is really different from working on individual poems, she said. And I tried to think about what is the argument I want all these poems to make together.
Another program requisite is that each fellow teaches one semester-long English course per year. Rogers said, Natalie and I are [each] going to teach a workshop, mixed genre: poetry and prose; a couple other areas, depending on our interests. The 100-level, spring-semester creative writing course will also feature open enrollment, about which Rogers is excited. The hope is that were going to be able to teach whoever wants to be taught, she said.
The Review received over 400 applications for the two Fellowship positions. One hundred of them were really great candidates we could have hired and done well with, Lynn said. After winnowing the field, the Review interviewed 12-18 finalists and, of those, brought to campus the top five or six. The committee then decided on their top two choices, Rogers and Shapero, whom Lynn called really fabulous people.
I think one of the reasons [the Fellowships were] attractive to a lot of people is its a good place to come and be a writer both because its very beautiful and peaceful here, but also because there are a ton of writers here, both on the faculty and in the student body, Shapero said. You instantly have a lot of kindred spirits around you, which is really awesome.