Three of the six winners of this year’s St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Grants in Literature are Emerson College graduates, all of whom are working with themes of exploring one’s roots in one way or another.
The Emerson winners are poets Aaron Krol, MFA ’13, and Brionne Janae, MFA ’15, and nonfiction writer Caitlin McGill, MFA ’15. Krol and Janae were nominated by Professor John Skoyles; McGill was nominated by Senior Writer-in-Residence Richard Hoffman.
The St. Botolph Club Foundation was founded in 1963 to support New England–based artists. Each year, the Foundation gives $3,000 Emerging Artist Grants to writers, musicians, and visual artists who are just starting out in their careers, as well as a Distinguished Artist Award to an established artist who has made great contributions to his or her craft.
Krol got a job as a science reporter shortly after graduating from Emerson, but last summer he got a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and was able to quit his job and concentrate on his poetry. The Emerging Artist Grant should allow him to extend that, he said.
“I’m working on my first book, which I hope I’ll have ready to start shopping [to publishers] before I have to get a full-time job again,” Krol said. “Sometime before the end of the year is the goal.”
His book is tentatively titled The Saints, after one of the poems in the collection. The title poem is about the child of an immigrant family from Eastern Europe who has been visiting the old country and has seen different portrayals of the saints there, he said.
Krol called his time in Emerson’s MFA program the “three best years of my life.”
“I feel like that was the time I got over trying to write the best line all the time and figured out how to write a poem,” he said.
Krol has had poems published in a dozen journals, including 32 Poems and Mississippi Review, and has work forthcoming in Chautauqua, Cimarron Review, Dogwood, and Measure.
Janae is in the early stages of a new collection of poems, which she said will be a bit of a departure from her thesis work, After Jubilee.
“My thesis focused a lot on historical events and juxtaposed my life against those historical events, whereas now I’m writing a lot more about my family and the experiences of my family,” Janae said.
Many of the poems in After Jubilee were written in the voice of residents of Slocum, Texas, site of a 1910 massacre of black residents by their white neighbors. But even while working on that collection, Janae said, she began heading in the direction of more personal poems.
“The latter poems I wrote started looking at my family,” she said. “All my grandparents are from the South and migrated to California. It’s a recognition that I’m still very much connected to that history of the Great Migration. It was just time.”
Janae has been or will be published in jubilat, Apogee Journal, The Nashville Review, and Waxwing, among others. She teaches writing and African American literature and advises at Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Massachusetts, but she’ll use her grant money to reduce her teaching load and spend more time on her poems, she said.
“[The grant’s] made me try to be more serious about how I use my time right now, since I know someone has invested in me and I want to get the most out of it,” she said.
McGill will use her grant to transform her Emerson thesis into a book. The thesis, Museum of Endangered Sounds, is a collection of essays, many about her family’s heritage, but she said she’s long wondered if it should be a longer narrative.
She said she’s hoping to use her grant money to travel to Eastern Europe and do research, “starting with myself and asking ‘Who am I?’ and looking backward and answering ‘Who [were] they?’” she said. “There are many unanswered questions about my family history, particularly on my mother’s side, which was Jewish, and which I grew up knowing very, very little about.”
McGill said she’s planning to journey to Slovakia and Latvia. She’s still trying to work out how to make her essays work as one story, but she feels like she’s getting there.
“I feel for the first time like maybe I’m writing chapters, but I’m still not sure what the book looks like yet,” she said.
When she’s writing, McGill said she lets her own innate curiosity lead her through the story, which is what she tries to impart to her first-year students at Emerson, where she is an affiliated faculty member, and at MCPHS University.
McGill has been published in Crab Orchard Review, Southeast Review, and Iron Horse Review, among others, and was the winner of the 2014 Rafael Torch Nonfiction Literary Award.