Laurie Baker (fiction, ’00) has been awarded the 2014 Larry Levis Post-Graduate Stipend to complete a collection of short stories, How We Entertain Ourselves in Isolation. The Levis Stipend is given to support a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College who is completing his/her first book and alternates between poetry and for fiction.
The judge, Eric Puchner, said of the winning manuscript, “There’s an intelligence, emotional insight, and moral complexity to the stories that really impressed me. The ending of each story stayed with me. And the narrator is honest and funny and humane.”
Laurie Baker contributed to the short story collection, She Is Quick and Curious and Playful and Strong, curated by designer Kate Spade. Her story “Mother of Hope” was chosen as “Story-of-the-Week” for Narrative Magazine in June, 2013.
Of the award, Laurie writes, “I am absolutely thrilled (and astonished) to have won the Larry Levis Post-Graduate Stipend this year. I hope to express, above all, my thanks for its financial and literary support towards the completion of my fiction manuscript, a collection of interrelated stories entitled How We Entertain Ourselves in Isolation – a collection I have unfortunately ignored for the last several months.
These stories, told chronologically over the course of two years, depict the experiences of a white American girl teaching in a missionary-run boarding school in South Africa during the tumultuous years of 1992 to 1994, when the country transitioned, often violently, from white, minority rule to Nelson Mandela’s presidency. The stories for the most part function at the point at which the personal and political intersect: much of the nature of the narrator’s own conflict, so starkly inadequate in the face of those crises experienced by her African students as well as the larger, national one, exists as a result of her aspirations to achieve an ideal version of herself, not simply through altruistic efforts but through her own transformation through suffering.
I am hugely grateful to the fellowship for its annual dedication to a writer who has a singularly optimistic devotion to a manuscript-in-progress; without these kinds of stipends, as well as the emotional lift they provide, such writers would often find themselves giving up once and for all. At least, I have found this to be the case with me. The Larry Levis stipend offers me a wholly practical solution, enabling me to decrease, if not eliminate, my part-time working hours and to use the time for writing instead. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to invest more deeply in the revision process and hope soon to find these stories a home, both individually and as a collection.”
Larry Levis (1946-1996) was the author of six books of poetry. His last collection, Elegy, was published posthumously and a volume of Selected Poems was published in 2000. Levis was a much beloved member of the faculty at the MFA Program for Writers, cherished as much for his incisive mind as for the care and attention he gave to his students. The Darkening Trapeze: The Uncollected Poems of Larry Levis is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2015.
The Levis Stipend is a project of Friends of Writers, a not-for profit 501(c)(3) organization that enriches American poetry and fiction by cultivating new and vital literary voices. It achieves these goals by supporting the students, alumni and faculty of the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. If you would like to support this work, visit friendsofwriters.org.