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Thompson Awarded NEA Fellowship

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HCL's Christina Thompson was recently awarded a Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose by the National Endowment for the Arts.

December 22, 2009 – Harvard Review Editor Christina Thompson, author of “Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All,” was recently selected for a Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA.) Of the nearly 1,000 writers who applied for fellowships, which are awarded to fiction and nonfiction prose writers, just 42 were selected.

“It’s one of the major grants for writers,” said Thompson, sitting in the Harvard Review office in Lamont Library. “Everybody applies to the NEA – it’s definitely one of the most recognizable programs for creative writing.”

The NEA fellowship, which includes a cash award, is actually the second received by Thompson in recent months. In November, she received a grant from the Literature Board of Australia. The funding, she said, will allow her to complete work on a second book, which examines the ancient history of the Polynesian people and how they populated the Pacific.

“The new book will be an intellectual history of the debate about where the Polynesian peoples came from,” Thompson said. “Besides the mythology, there is archaeology and linguistic evidence for their origins, and now there’s DNA evidence. Essentially what I’m trying to do is piece together the different theories and show not how they’ve evolved, but how they’ve swung from one extreme to another depending on who’s proposing the theory.”

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This summer, Thompson plans to take several weeks off from her work as an editor and summer teaching schedule to travel to several Pacific islands, including Vanuatu, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia and French Polynesia to conduct research for the book. Without the financial support of the NEA grant, she said, such a research trip would be impossible.

“For most writers, these types of grants are essentially income support,” Thompson said. “They allow you to teach one less class, or to take a semester off to focus on the work of writing.”

Applications for the NEA fellowships, which include a piece of writing, are submitted blind – without the writer’s names – and go through a winnowing process before being evaluated by a 12-member committee, Thompson said. The program is open only to writers who meet certain criteria – to be eligible writers must have published a novel or non-fiction book, or at least five short stories or essays in two or more literary journals or anthologies. The fellowships are awarded to prose writers and poetry writers in alternating years.

Thompson isn’t the only writer with connections to Harvard Review to receive one of the NEA fellowships. Other winners included Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, whose short story, “The Last American Monkey,” appeared in Harvard Review issue 24 and Vinnie Wilhelm, whose short story, “In the Absence of Predators” was published in Harvard Review issue 34.

“It’s interesting to look at the list of grant recipients,” Thompson said. “I always see many names I recognize, but there are many names here I’ve never heard of before, so it’s useful for me as an editor to see this list and think about who we might be publishing that we’re not.”

Harvard Review is a literary journal published twice yearly by Houghton Library, which includes works of poetry, fiction, essays, drama, graphics, and reviews.