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United States Artists: Propelling America's Creative Potential


NEW USA Fellows

United States Artists, the five-year-old philanthropic organization known for the fifty $50,000 fellowships it awards each year to “America’s finest artists,” has gotten into the Kickstarter business.

Propelled by their mission to “invest in America’s finest artists and illuminate the value of artists to society,” United States Artists has started a Projects portion of their website, designed to help several of their fellows launch projects.

The new initiative caught my eye when Wesley McNair, a Maine-based poet whose work I greatly admire, announced “Letters Between Poets.” McNair himself was a USA Ford Fellow in 2006, and is much-revered for penning poetry that addresses “the realities of small-town New England, the strains of family bonds, and the underside of American dreams.”

The “Letters Between Poets” project would build an educational resource from the exchange of letters between McNair and the former US Poet Laureate Donald Hall, who mentored McNair during his early struggles as a poet. The goal is to put the letters online in a digital archive so they might give encouragement and guidance to other poets and writers.

Wesley McNairAs with the Kickstarter model, the project’s success depends on gathering $7,100 in pledges; the money will go directly to programming, design, and tech support. Again, as with Kickstarter, pledges of a certain level receive thank you perks such as signed copies of McNair’s books. To date, 47 percent of the support needed to fund this project has been pledged. But there’s still time! You have until 11:59pm on Sunday, January 30th to make a contribution. Donations can be as small as $1.

While the United States Artists site features scores of projects in the visual arts and music fields, there are just a handful of literary projects like McNair’s. So I’m calling on writers everywhere—be you a poet or prose stylist—to consider supporting one of these literary projects. Let’s give United States Artists a reason to launch more of these great fundraising endeavors.


Contributor

Joshua Bodwell

Joshua Bodwell is the executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. He is a regular contributor to Poets & Writers Magazine, where his author profiles have included Ann Beattie, John Casey, Andre Dubus III, Richard Ford, and Richard Russo. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in magazines and quarterlies such as Ambit (London), Glimmer Train’s Writer’s Ask, Threepenny Review, and Slice. His journalism has garnered awards from the Maine and New England press associations. He was awarded the 2015 Marianne Russo Award for emerging authors from the Key West Literary Seminar.

Photo Credit: Curt Richter


Join the Discussion

  • Thanks, Josh, for this generous article spreading the word about my USA project. I feel right at home on the Fiction Writers Review blog because I’m a narrative poet. Storytelling is my mission, too.

    As you’ve said, the goal of the project is to put my early correspondence with the poet Donald Hall online. These letters were written during a time of real struggle for me as a writer — years of raising four kids, teaching, and working course by course on graduate degrees. There was hardly any time to be a writer. Sound familiar to anyone?

    Our correspondence, which showed the faith of a literary elder, meant everything to me. They contained Don’s encouragement, advice about craft and publishing, and criticism of work in progress. In the end, they helped me to develop as a poet and to create my first book of poems at the same time. The help cut both ways, since gradually I began to critique Don’s work too, not just the other way around.

    If you’re reading my comment right now and have any questions about this project, fire away! Better yet, just click on the hyperlink above and have a look at the short video, which has some excerpts of letters so you can sample some of their flavor and consider their value to other writers, whatever genre they may be working in.

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