I Was Becoming: A Reading and Conversation with Four Authors

February 8, 2021

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MacDowell and The Rona Jaffe Foundation celebrated 14 years of partnership supporting emerging women writers with a virtual reading and Q&A featuring Elif Batuman, Chelsea Bieker, and Monica Sok on Monday, February 8th. The event began with readings that were then followed by a 30-minute Q&A with questions collected in advance from members of the public. Author, MacDowell Fellow, and MacDowell board member Julie Orringer moderated. You can watch the hour-long presentation below.

All four of these distinguished writers can trace aspects of their careers to the joint support that MacDowell and The Rona Jaffe Foundation provide. Batuman is a 2007 Rona Jaffe Award recipient and 2018 MacDowell Fellow, Bieker is a 2018 Rona Jaffe Award recipient and 2014 MacDowell Fellow, Orringer is a three-time MacDowell Fellow and a recipient of the 2008 Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellowship at the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library, and Sok is the 2016 Rona Jaffe MacDowell Fellowship recipient.

“The foundation is delighted to co-sponsor this event with MacDowell to celebrate both our lasting relationship and our mutual mission in supporting creative artists,” said Executive Director of The Rona Jaffe Foundation Beth McCabe. “This collaboration is part of the foundation’s ongoing effort to recognize and support some of our most vital cultural institutions and literary nonprofits in our country. Our fellowship with MacDowell is one of many we sponsor throughout the nation to help women build successful writing lives. We are so pleased to have been able to provide support to Elif, Chelsea, Monica, and Julie at important junctures in their careers and it’s wonderful to bring them together with MacDowell for this special evening.”

“With time and space, MacDowell provides essential support to artists of all disciplines at critical periods in their careers, and The Rona Jaffe Foundation is an essential partner for MacDowell in our efforts to provide that support to writers,” said MacDowell Executive Director Philip Himberg. “We celebrate our ongoing relationship with The Rona Jaffe Foundation, these four amazing writers, and the authors and poets our partnership will support in the future.”

With themes in the participants' books including imagination, trauma, the search for answers, and the ways in which writing shapes memory and reality, this event promises to engage writers and readers of all generations.

The Rona Jaffe Foundation permanently endowed the Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellowship at MacDowell in 2008. Each year, this fellowship supports an emerging woman writer with a MacDowell residency and a stipend of $2,500. Twelve incredible writers have been supported by the Rona Jaffe Fellowship at MacDowell, including Carolyn Byrne, Aurora Masum-Javed, and Yahaira Lawrence.

(Clockwise, from top left) Elif Batuman by Beowulf Sheehan, Chelsea Bieker by Jessica Keaveny, Monica Sok by Andria Lo, and Julie Orringer by Christa Parravani.

I Was Becoming

Biographies of panelists:

Elif Batuman’s first novel, The Idiot, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction. She is also the author of The Possessed, a collection of comical interconnected essays about Russian literature, which was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism. She has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2010 and holds a doctoral degree in comparative literature from Stanford University.

Chelsea Bieker is the author of the novel Godshot, which was longlisted for The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR, and the forthcoming story collection, Heartbroke (2022). Her writing has been published by The Paris Review, Granta, The Cut, McSweeney’s, Lit Hub, Electric Literature, and others. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and a MacDowell Fellowship. Originally from California’s Central Valley, she now lives in Portland, OR with her husband and two children where she teaches writing.

Julie Orringer, a three-time MacDowell Fellow, is the author The Invisible Bridge, a novel, and How to Breathe Underwater, both New York Times Notable Books. She is the winner of The Paris Review’s Discovery Prize and the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. Her novel, The Flight Portfolio, was published in May 2019. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Ryan Harty, and their children.

Monica Sok is a Cambodian American poet and the daughter of former refugees. She is the author of A Nail the Evening Hangs On (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). Her work has been recognized with a "Discovery" Prize from 92Y. She has received fellowships and residencies from Poetry Society of America, Hedgebrook, Elizabeth George Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Kundiman, Jerome Foundation, MacDowell, Saltonstall Foundation, and others. Sok was a 2018-2020 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and has taught poetry to Southeast Asian youths at Banteay Srei and the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants in Oakland. She is originally from Lancaster, PA.

You can purchase each book via the title links above from Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough, NH, MacDowell’s hometown.

About The Rona Jaffe Foundation
The Rona Jaffe Foundation’s programs of support for emerging women writers identify and encourage women writers of exceptional promise in recognition of the important contributions they make to our culture. Our work acknowledges the difficulties some of the most talented among them have in overcoming obstacles in finding time to write and gaining attention. Since 1995, our Writers’ Awards program and additional sponsored fellowships, held at distinguished cultural and educational nonprofit institutions throughout the country, have helped many women build successful writing lives by offering encouragement and financial support at a critical time. For more information, visit www.ronajaffefoundation.org.