NEA Literature Fellowships

Lenore Myka

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(2016 - Prose)

from "Mascots"

We came from many corners of the globe, though in truth they were corners found primarily in North America and the European Union, which is to say, the corners of the globe that mattered. We were employed by our governments or the big acronyms—IRC, UNESCO, USAID, ICRC, WHO—and like twins who create a language only they can understand, we discussed IFBs and RFPs, the OAU and OAS; the newest IO partnering with a local NGO.

We’d come via other corners of the globe, but those corners were places that hardly mattered—Somalia and Bangladesh; Sudan and Afghanistan; all the many refugee camps scattered like breadcrumbs, those purgatorial, in-between places. Hardship posts, though the more sanctimonious among us refused to call them by such a name, insisting that we’d never gone anywhere more beautiful (The mountains! The seaside!), more rich in cultural tradition and history (The pottery! The ruins!).

Once, a Swede—a baby—declared that he loved Papua New Guinea.

We sniggered. It had been his first post after graduate school; he’d only ever been there and here; it was too soon in his short career for him to realize that he was lying, most especially to himself. The rest of us understood that saying you loved Papua New Guinea was like saying you loved it here, in this country with its clay roads naked children ran about and shat in, its miles of tin shanties you averted your eyes from whenever you took an air-conditioned car to or from the airport. Saying you loved Papua New Guinea was like saying you loved this place where you couldn’t buy a decent loaf of bread much less a bottle of Bordeaux; where you lived and worked behind high walls and locked yourself behind bars, fastening them over the windows and doors of your home at night, and found yourself eyeing the guard at the gate, the gardener and housekeeper and cook, wondering if one of them hadn’t been responsible for the disappearance of the opal pendant you’d inherited from your grandmother or the fifty euros you’d sworn you left in your trousers last Saturday night when you’d come home from the disco drunk and reeking of other expatriates’ sweat.

Lenore Myka is the author of King of the Gypsies: Stories, winner of the 2014 G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. She is the recipient of a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. Her fiction has been selected as distinguished by The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-Required Reading series, and has appeared in New England Review, Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, West Branch, and Alaska Quarterly Review, among others. She received her MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College and an MA from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. She currently serves as Writer in Residence at New College of Florida and teaches Creative Writing at the Ringling College of Art & Design. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania and currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Photo by Dennis P. Callahan

Author's Statement

As a child, I spent many an afternoon waiting—sometimes for hours—to be picked up from music lessons, Sunday school, friends’ houses, while my mother was busy taxiing around, picking up and dropping off my siblings. This experience helped me develop my skill at waiting; it also taught me that I was no more special than the other four people (and sometimes five, if you included my father) my mother spent her days taking care of.

Good lessons, I think, for a future writer. Waiting—for the muse, for a response to a submission, for readers, for recognition—is an essential part of being a writer. And the more experienced you become, the more you meet people like yourself, people who are just as talented, just as deserving, oftentimes more so. We hear much about the writer’s ego. But what the discipline really does to those of us who pursue it is cultivate a deep sense of humility.

Unlike my mother, the NEA fellowship was never something I waited for. Instead, I planned to apply until I died, abandoning all hope each time I did. The odds, I understood, were far too remote. When the call came, I did what I do best: I cried and I cursed. Joyously, of course.

What does the NEA fellowship mean? Freedom from the time and financial constraints that frequently inhibit my creative process. Validation from other writers for over a decade’s worth of work, work that has, for the most part, gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. Until now. It cannot be said enough and with a deep enough sense of gratitude: Thank you world, for noticing.