Media release

Local writers win $25,000 fellowships

Three local writers have received what are considered to be among the largest no-strings-attached grants available to artists in the United States.

Mary-Kim Arnold, Luisa C. Murillo and Chrysanthemum Tran will receive $25,000 grants from the Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation. They were selected from among nearly 100 applicants.

The fellowships are intended to enable writers to concentrate time on the creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work and explore new directions.

“We are providing the financial resources necessary to allow these writers to advance their work. We hope this exceptional gift of time and money will enable them to invest in advancing their craft.”

- Ricky Bogert, the grant programs officer at the Foundation who oversees MacColl Johnson.
Mary-Kim Arnold hand gesturing during presentation
Mary-Kim Arnold hand gesturing during presentation.

Mary-Kim Arnold

Arnold is a writer working in multiple genres – poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Her work often explores her experience as a Korean-born adoptee, raised by a single mother who was the daughter of Portuguese immigrants.

“I had no real sense of cultural identity, but a heightened awareness of being ‘other’ as orphan, immigrant, woman of color; as poor, as not Korean enough, but also not American enough. Questions of legitimacy and belonging are at the core of an orphan’s experience. Concerns like dislocation, alienation, and trauma that arise from the experience inform and animate my work,” she said.

“Litany for the Long Moment,” which she describes as an experimental memoir about returning to Korea with a group of adult adoptees, was published last year.

She’s interested in reaching Asian American and Korean American communities with this book, and she will use her fellowship funds for a west coast reading and speaking tour, which will include events in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.

The fellowship will also allow her to take some time away from her current teaching and freelance writing responsibilities to finish her novel, “Nine Men’s Misery,” which explores the legacy of war and intergenerational trauma on one American family. She will use funds for the travel and research costs involved in this project.

The Pawtucket resident is a Visiting Lecturer in Brown University’s Nonfiction Writing Program, where she teaches creative nonfiction and Asian American literature. She has a Masters of Fine Arts from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and a Masters of Fine Arts and a Bachelors of Arts in English and American Literature from Brown University.

Luisa C. Murillo at a book signing
Luisa C. Murillo at a book signing.

Luisa C. Murillo

Murillo plans to take time off to finalize and publish her first book of poetry, which will be presented in English, Spanish and Quechua to promote an appreciation of Bolivian culture.

“My poems strive to document personal experiences, to advocate for social justice and to create a magical realism space. I also plan to journey to Bolivia to where I was born, raised as a child, where my parents were married, their childhood homes and the sources of inspiration for my poems,” she said.

Murillo is Director of Social Programs at Progreso Latino, where she concentrates on immigration policy, health care policy, social services, domestic violence, advocacy initiatives, youth programs and community research projects.

“I have lived almost a half of a century, devoting my time to family and service. The fellowship will give me the resources to grow as a writer and to dedicate time to share my writing in a published form,” she said.

The Providence resident earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Rhode Island, which honored her short stories and non-fiction with awards in 2015 and 2016.

Chrysanthemum Tran headshot
Chrysanthemum Tran

Chrysanthemum Tran

Tran is a poet and nationally touring performer. She plans to use her fellowship to complete her first collection of poems and develop a poetry symposium on a multi-acre farm in Wakefield.

“At the heart of my poetry is a need to explore the intersections of Vietnamese diaspora and transgender dysphoria. I'm motivated by the reality that there are lethal consequences for trans women of color who dare to live their truths,” Tran said.

Tran serves as a host and teaching artist for the Providence Poetry Slam, which holds biweekly shows at AS220 and sponsors ProvSlam Youth, a summer poetry program for Providence high schoolers.

“As an organization run by volunteers, I’ll use the fellowship to make time to better serve local poets who, like me, are primarily young LGBTQ writers and writers of color. I’ll continue building a curriculum for young writers to investigate connections between poetry and politics as I do in my work,” Tran said.

The South Kingstown resident has won several poetry slams, including the 2017 Feminine Empowerment Movement Slam and the 2016 Rustbelt Poetry Slam. Performances of her spoken word poetry have more than 170,000 views on YouTube. Tran, together with Rhode Island writer Justice Ameer, just finished debuting ANTHEM at the American Repertory Theater, a two-woman multi-genre poetry show exploring how race and gender politics shape the lives of trans women of color.

About the Applicants

Arnold, Murillo and Tran were selected by a panel of four out-of-state jurors who are professional editors and writers. They were selected based on the quality of the work samples, artistic development and the creative contribution their genre, as well as the potential of the fellowship to advance their careers as emerging-to-mid-career artists.

The panel also named three finalists: Christopher Johnson, a Providence playwright and poet; Shey Rivera, a Providence resident who works in poetry and prose; and Seth Tourjee, a Providence resident who works in hybrid prose and poetry.

Applicants had to be legal residents of Rhode Island. High school students, college and graduate students who are enrolled in a degree-granting program and artists who have advanced levels of career achievement were not eligible.

Established in 2003, the MacColl Johnson fellowships rotate among composers, writers and visual artists on a three-year cycle. Over the years, the Foundation has awarded more than $1 million in fellowships.

Rhode Islanders Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson were both dedicated to the arts all their lives. Mrs. Johnson, who died in 1990, earned a degree in creative writing from Roger Williams College when she was 70. Mr. Johnson invented a new process for mixing metals in jewelry-making and then retired to become a fulltime painter. Before he died in 1999, Johnson began discussions with the Foundation that led to the creation of the fellowships.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $114 million and awarded $52 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2018. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.