For Donna Steiner of SUNY Oswego’s English and creative writing department, winning a prestigious New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship represents a story in persistence.
The New York State Council on the Arts’ Artist Fellowship Program through NYFA awarded unrestricted cash grants of $7,000 to only 105 fellows of 3,692 applicants statewide in categories including Crafts/Sculpture, Digital/Electronic Arts, Poetry, Printmaking/Drawing/Book Arts and Steiner’s category, Nonfiction Literature. She is the only Oswego County resident to earn the fellowship this year.
Steiner applied for the grant on several occasions unsuccessfully, but never gave up. “Every time you submit work for a major award like this, you learn a little more about the process,” she said. “I’ve been writing for over half my life. I offered my best work — material I’d spent quite a bit of time on — and it paid off.”
The application requests two essays, and Steiner submitted “Elements of the Wind,” which literary journal Fourth Genre published last year, and “Studying the Trees.”
“My favorite part of this whole process is that ‘Studying the Trees’ has been rejected by 25 different editors,” Steiner said. “This award feels like a bit of redemption.”
Because Steiner submitted the application in November and had forgotten about it, she said she was “dumbstruck” when she received email notification of winning. She was in so much disbelief, wondering if it was “a joke or a mistake,” she asked Leigh Wilson — also a writer and Oswego English professor — to look at the note, too.
“She assured me that it was real, and I just sat in stunned happiness for a good hour,” Steiner said. “It’s been about three weeks now, and it really hasn’t sunk in yet.”
The grant to support artists and their work comes with “no strings attached,” Steiner said, other than asking recipients to submit a report at the end of the year saying how it benefited them and to perform some kind of public service, such as a workshop or reading, during the year.
Now an assistant professor at Oswego, Steiner’s teaching abilities earned the Provost’s Award for Teaching Excellence for Part-Time Faculty while an adjunct instructor in 2008. She also has had work published in top literary journals and anthologies, essay collections and textbooks.
“I’m happy to represent Oswego, and if my being a 2011 Fellow in Nonfiction Literature adds anything to the reputation of our English and creative writing department, then I’m proud of that, too,” she said.