News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters writer earns literary fellowship

Emily Woodworth of Sisters is the recipient of an Oregon Literary Fellowship through the literary arts organization.

Woodworth had been aware of the organization for many years and had been planning to apply for the fellowship after graduating from Pacific University in 2016. Woodworth graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in creative writing and a minor in editing and publishing. She then attended California Institute (CalArts), where she graduated in 2020 with a master’s of fine arts degree in writing with an emphasis in image and text.

After becoming eligible and gaining more confidence, and after having some more writing and literary experience, she decided to submit to the application for the literary fellowship in 2020.

“I was actually prepared to apply several years in a row — that’s pretty standard for these sorts of competitive calls — so I was very surprised at my selection,” said Woodworth.

According to the Literary Arts organization’s website:

“Literary Arts received 408 applications from writers and 17 applications from publishers for the 2021 fellowships. Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating these applications, using literary excellence as the primary criterion. Since 1987, Literary Arts has honored over 650 Oregon writers and publishers and distributed more than $1 million in fellowships and award monies through the Oregon Book Awards & Fellowships program.”

Woodworth was awarded one of nine $3,500 fellowships.

The application included her own basic biographical information and a writing sample. The writing sample is the main component that judges use to evaluate the work of the writer. Woodworth submitted a short story titled “The Lightning Jar.” The literary fellowship is awarded to support future writing, so the sample is used to evaluate potential to produce publishable work in the future, through the work of the fellowship itself.

Woodworth found her passion for writing during her junior year of college.

“I was a latecomer to writing. I did not decide to pursue writing until my junior year of college, intending instead to pursue an English degree and go into editing/publishing others’ work,” she said. “My first fiction class in college was a game-changer for me. My professor, Keya Mitra, who is an incredible writer herself, really showed me the vast range of what fiction writing can do — and how to have fun with it.”

Woodworth had always been involved in writing in some form or another throughout her life. When she decided to declare herself a writing major, she had written and produced a web series titled “The Barista Times,” which aired on YouTube and was acted and filmed by herself and her brother, Nathan Woodworth, in Sisters. She had also worked for various local magazines including Cascade Journal.

“My family are all great storytellers, too, and oral storytelling has been a cornerstone for family gatherings my entire life, although I didn’t connect this directly to ‘writing’ until later on,” she said.

The Oregon Literary Fellowship requires awardees to spend the funds within one year of receiving them.

“That gives writers a ton of flexibility for how to put this money to use, which is so nice,” she said.

Woodworth plans to use the funds to take a research trip in September of 2021. Her family are of Karuk Native American heritage.

“For a couple of years now I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a short story collection using Karuk oral stories and my own ancestors’ experiences as inspiration,” she said. “My biggest obstacle to writing this collection has always been physical distance from our ancestral lands in Northern California.”

Now she can travel to some of these areas and learn more about her family’s Native heritage and stories. She will be going through Happy Camp and Yreka, California, for the first leg of the journey.

“I’ll also do a fair bit of hiking while I’m there, to see the many sites that are spoken of in Karuk oral stories,” she said.

She will then be traveling up to Salem, Oregon, where her great-grandfather was forced to attend Chemawa Indian School in the 1900s. She will end the trip at the Oregon Coast for a writing retreat and “see what comes of it.”

Woodworth is also currently polishing up and finishing a novel she had been writing for her thesis project during her master’s program.

“I’m simultaneously working to get short stories published on a regular basis, and applying for grants, fellowships, residencies, and so on: all helpful ways to create time and space for more writing,” she said.

Woodworth hopes within five years to have her first novel published, and a collection of short stories. Her perfect world would include the ability to work part-time in a literary-adjacent job and supplement income with grants, fellowships, or short-term teaching engagements.

“I’m a fiction editor at Ruminate Magazine right now (very part-time) and I would love to keep doing something like that alongside my writing in the future. I also recently started as a grant development specialist with Family Access Network, and I’m finding the grant-writing process really rewarding — that’s a possible parallel career I could see sticking with for financial stability,” said Woodworth.

Woodworth would like to thank Literary Arts for supporting Oregon writers and to “urge community members who love artists and writers to get their COVID vaccines, so we can get back to having live performances, book readings, and in-person celebrations of creativity soon!”


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