Writing Opportunity: AWP's Writer to Writer Mentorship Program PLUS An Interview with Program Alum, Essayist & Poet Kenzie Allen

Writers, take note: the Association of Writers & Writing Program (AWP)’s Writer to Writer Mentorship Program closes submissions for its spring 2018 module next Monday, January 15.

If you want to apply, you should take advantage of the weekend and do it soon!


Who is this program for?

This three-month series puts fifteen to twenty-five mentees in touch with published mentors in the genres of fiction, creative non-fiction, playwriting, and poetry. Once a pairing happens, the mentor instructs the mentee on “craft, revision, publishing, and the writing life.” Mentees can also be in touch with one another throughout the process, if they feel it will be beneficial to them.

AWP's website mentions that the program was created to serve writers who have never undertaken an MFA program, as well as writers who are currently underrepresented in the literary world.

Advice from Program Alumna, Kenzie Allen

I'm grateful to be part of a strong, bold online cohort of writers, which includes Kenzie Allen. (Read her byline below for more proof of how awesome she is.) As I researched this post, I found her name on AWP's list of former mentees, along with the information that she'd been advised by poet and memoirist Ernestine Hayes.

Kenzie was gracious enough to share her program experience with me here.

Jessica Hatch (JH): What were your expectations going into the program?

Kenzie Allen (KA): What the AWP Writer To Writer Program initially represented to me was hope. I had hope that through the program, and with the resources and the knowledge of the AWP organization behind it, I might, for the first time in my writing life, find Native mentorship. Up until that point I had wonderful mentors in my education, but I wanted to forge further connections within the Native community and understand the specific challenges we would face, particularly with regards to audience. What would it mean to write directly to Native readers within a certain line or phrase, and to leave these moments ‘untranslated’ for the larger audience? Was I doing right by my community in the ways I was already approaching my work? I was struggling in my workshops, where too often words like ‘colonialism’ failed to come up in discussion, and where ‘authenticity,’ while certainly a concern, felt sometimes as though it was viewed in light of the American Imaginary rather than my own American Indian experiences. Each of our Native nations is so diverse, not only in culture but in the modern ways we live—mine is a checkerboarded reservation nestled in the heart of a city. I wanted exposure to other nations’ ways, and I wanted a reader for my work who understood the nuances I was trying to work within. I found that in Ernestine Hayes, and I thank the program for that thoughtful pairing.

JH: What was working with Ernestine Hayes like? Did you gain new insight, pull back the curtain on new opportunities, meet new people?

KA: Working with Ernestine was, first and foremost, an experience of warmth, and acceptance, and joy. Ernestine never treated me as anything but a professional writer in my own right, and as Oneida. That, in and of itself, made a world of difference to my writing. I felt more confident in what I was doing, and that the difficulties I was experiencing were real and my frustrations valid. Ernestine is such a generous soul—she shared aspects of culture with me, but moreover, she shared her self. She was so encouraging, and she sparked an excitement in me for connecting further to my community, all trepidation falling to the wayside. Ernestine also provided a shining example of the community work we are almost always engaged in alongside the writing. Today, I still find myself wanting to say ‘gunałchéesh’ (Tlingit for thank you, vs the Oneida ‘yaw^ko’) to my friends in the American Indian Studies office at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It comes into my mind, even from years ago, and I think of Ernestine.

Kenzie Allen's mentor, Ernestine Hayes.  Photo Source:  AKArts.org .

Kenzie Allen's mentor, Ernestine Hayes. Photo Source: AKArts.org.

JH: What do you feel you got out of the program?

KA: I was very overwhelmed during the initial program, being in my last semester before our thesis workshop at the University of Michigan, and my biggest regret is not having spent more time taking advantage of the program prompts and talking with Ernestine. But the outcome has still been a lasting relationship, both with the program community and with Ernestine, which, really, is exactly what I had hoped for in the first place. The anxiety I felt about connecting to the Native community, and even calling myself an Oneida poet, lifted, and I credit that to the acceptance and warmth of Ernestine and of the folks at AWP. We say in Oneida: a good mind, a good heart, and a strong fire. This experience was a spark toward that fire, and a shelter from the storm which allowed it to burn brightly.

JH: For someone considering applying for spring 2018 or fall 2018, what is your best advice?

KA: First off, DO apply. It could be your spark, to start or revive your own fire. Let the Writer To Writer Program know exactly what you are looking for (or hoping for!)—they are diligent about matching folks up with the right mentor. If you don’t make it into the program, try again! And if you do, clear as much as you can from your schedule. Really put yourself into it. If the prompts or questions (I have no idea what this looks like these days) aren’t working for you, chart your own course (in my experience that has been very much encouraged). The program will offer you that starting point, and it will be up to you to coax that flame into the bonfire which will warm you and those around you. Above all, don’t give up. The mentors and mentees and the program directors are among so many who want to help and cheer you on. You are worth it. Your passion and your work is worth it.

Photo courtesy of Kenzie Allen.

Photo courtesy of Kenzie Allen.

Kenzie Allen is a descendant of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. She is currently an Advanced Opportunity Program Fellow and poet in the English & Creative Writing PhD Program at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, where she is also a TA in American Indian Studies. Her work can be found in Narrative, The Iowa Review, Boston Review, Best New Poets 2016, and other venues, and she is the managing editor of the Anthropoid collective.

As Kenzie says, if you’re struggling to jumpstart the next phase of your writing career or to take your craft to the next level, then this program could be a good fit. At the very least, you’ll have gained access to a worthy mentor, someone who can expand your network and open your eyes to literary techniques you may not have heard of or considered before.

How does the application process work?

Each season's mentee class is dependent upon the results of a brief application and writing sample, as well as upon the mentors themselves. After adjudicators winnow down the applications, each mentor is given three applications for their own review. Essentially, the mentor gets to choose the mentee they think they would connect with best and benefit the most.

Mentors are not paid for their time, but rather volunteer out of a passion for the education of younger writers. There are repeat mentors -- I noticed Dan Calhoun is a chronic fiction mentor -- but there are also mentor spots that open to new volunteers each season.

AWP membership is required to apply, so at $75, this could be seen as a costly application. Of course, for $75, you’re also getting access to a wealth of resources, discounted access to annual conferences, etc., so it should be worth your while.

The application is available on Submittable, but it’s worth downloading the print application so that you can prepare your answers without risk of refreshing away from it.

And hey, whatever you do, don’t rush it. If you don’t make the Monday deadline, you’ll have months to prepare your application for the fall 2018 program!

For more information, visit www.awpwriter.org/community_calendar/mentorship_program_overview

Jessica HatchComment