By: MADDY BELLMAN
After a session of blind judging and months of waiting, Mike Croley, Visiting Assistant Professor in English, received his recipient status for a grant worth $25,000 through the National Endowment for the Arts.
The NEA’s Writing Fellowship grant is one of two opportunities for artists to directly apply for funding through this program, but as a whole, the agency gives money toward encouraging the participation in and development of the arts in the US.
The application process for the grant is blind and extensive, though it can be remolded and specified once the writer has been awarded the money.
“You apply, you send in a writing sample. You have to tell them what kind of project you’re going to be working on with the money, but it’s not like a detailed plan. No one holds you to it,” Croley said.
Other Denison professors received this award in the past: David Baker and Ann Townsend, “which is a little bit unique for our school that four out of five writers have won a pretty prestigious grant that everybody knows about,” Croley said.
Croley believes Peter Grandbois, Associate Professor in English, is on his way to receiving this award as well.
With a grant of its size, the Writing Fellowship allows writers the freedom to explore their art, continue on current projects, or, very practically, buy a washing machine.
“In your work, you might use [the grant] to travel, do research. You might use it to buy time, which is every writer’s greatest asset,” Croley said.
Some writers choose to take sabbatical from their university and focus solely on their writing, but Croley will continue on at Denison and use this grant for a return trip to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas and to visit Korea in the summer of 2017.
Place and travel greatly contribute to the work Croley produces.
His ties to his hometown in Kentucky are still strong and continue to inspire his narratives of hard working, middle-class families struggling to get by. “I’m interested in people who have real problems that are brought upon by sometimes by the economy and economics and other times by just being human.” Croley said.
“I get tired reading about rich, white people outside of New York.”
The communities outside of Granville remind Croley of his hometown, and he acknowledges that it’s hard to move beyond the associations he made with socioeconomic status and marginalized communities.
“Place dictates how we view a lot of those things, and I don’t think it’s super enlightening to sort of say that or a great insight. You view the world through the lens of where you grew up,” Croley said.
The places Croley will travel to in the coming years will inspire the novel he is currently working on, and the NEA grant made that all possible.
Yet there is a larger purpose to receiving this grant in terms of the confidence of its recipients.
“[This grant] gives you the confidence and acknowledgment that you can keep doing it. I think one thing that writers always need is a little bit of validation. They always need to know their stuff’s good,” Croley said. “Honestly, this thing felt good because the judging is blind. Nobody knows who you are. It’s just based off your work, and they pick the best work or what they deem the best work… My work stood on its own.”