Media release

Rhode Island Foundation awards $25,000 fellowships to three RI writers

Among the nation’s largest no-strings-attached grants for artists, the MacColl Johnson Fellowships will enable the recipients to spend more time writing and less time making ends meet.

The Rhode Island Foundation announced today that three local authors will receive what are considered to be among the largest no-strings-attached grants available to writers in the United States.

Rodrigo Fuentes of Providence, Hernán Darío Jourdan of Providence and An Uong of Providence will receive $25,000 grants from the Rhode Island Foundation’s Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund.

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 support necessary to enable these authors to invest more time into their writing. This is a remarkable opportunity for them to accelerate their success in advancing their craft,” said Ricky Bogert, the grant programs officer at the Foundation who oversees the program.

Fuentes, Jourdan and Uong 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 writers.

Fuentes is a 38-year-old Guatemalan who says three central elements guide his work. First, the belief that character development, rather than plot, provides the most interesting kind of narrative tension. Second, a desire to explore the different landscapes and ways of speaking in a country with such stark contrasts as Guatemala. Third, a fascination with the malleable material which constantly refashions what we think of as family.

“The fellowship will allow me to research and write my third book. This will be a work of fiction—a novel about an adopted girl of Guatemalan origin raised by an American family in Rhode Island,” he said.

Fuentes is an associate professor in the Spanish Department at Holy Cross College, where he teaches Spanish, creative writing in Spanish and contemporary Latin American fiction.

“I plan to use the fellowship to conduct research in both Rhode Island and Central America as I work on this novel and a new collection of short stories” he said.

Darío Jourdan is a 34-year-old Argentinean-American who writes about the cultural diversity across the Americas. He says his work is a way to explore and communicate about the parallel universes within them, often marked by cultural juxtapositions. Much of his writing is informed by personal experiences traveling across the land.

“The chronicles of my journey from Buenos Aires to Providence document the stories that I witnessed. People living close to neglect and oblivion. Poignant realities too remote to feel relevant for city dwellers. But celebration too is around the corner, from a family dance-reunion to a national carnival, embodying opportunities for seeing our lives as if through mirrors, and ultimately leading towards transformation,” he said.

Darío Jourdan will use the fellowship to renovate a 29-foot sailboat that he plans to travel with in order to learn more about the stories that live along the shores of the Americas.

“The story of this fractured continent cannot be the story of one person only. Our heritage is made of a myriad of voices. Without compromising their integrity, I work to tell those stories,” he said.

Uong is a Vietnamese-American writer and editor orbiting themes of pop culture, food and Vietnamese-American womanhood. She writes to dismantle the myth of the model minority through themes of belonging, displacement and family. She hopes to complicate the immigrant narrative by exploring moments of joy and oddity that exist in tandem with grief and healing.

“As a woman of color in the literary world, I have often felt isolated and have struggled to find community. I plan to use the fellowship to dedicate more time towards making genuine connections with other writers of color and developing community locally within the Rhode Island literary landscape,” she said.

Uong is a personal essayist and food writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Boston Globe, Eater, Catapult, Roads and Kingdoms, Taste and Bon Appetit, among other media. She earned an MFA at Emerson College and a BA at Sarah Lawrence College.

“In addition to making it possible for me to focus more wholeheartedly on my collection of essays in progress, this grant will help towards my dreams for local gatherings empowering minoritized writers in Rhode Island, including readings, workshops, and author talks,” she said.

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.

In addition, three finalists were selected: Courtney Denelle of Providence, Vatic Kuumba of Providence and Riss Neilson of Cranston. They will receive a $2,500 stipend.

Established in 2003, the Foundation’s MacColl Johnson fellowships rotate among composers, writers and visual artists on a three-year cycle. The next round will be awarded to visual artists. The application will be available on the Foundation’s website after July 1.

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. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.