The Wednesday Web Browser: Poetry Events, Award for Adichie, and A Teaching Writer

Robert Lee Brewer helps us find poetry events in a multitude of locations.
It has been nearly two years since I read Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. That book left quite an impression on me, and I was happy to learn this week that Adichie has won a MacArthur Fellowship. Congratulations to her!
David Gessner writes about his experience as a writer-who-teaches in the latest New York Times magazine.

(A Qualified) Friday Find: The New Alliance of Artists Communities Web Site

In the latest Practicing Writer newsletter, I seconded Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s endorsement of the Alliance of Artists Communities Web site; I also noted that according to the home page, the site was about to be revamped.

Well, the overhaul seems pretty complete, and I’m sorry to report one big change: Unless I’m mistaken, you’ll now have to fork over a fee if you want to access the full profiles of the residency programs in the site’s database.

Boo. Hiss.

On the plus side, you can still access enough information so that you can jot down the names of programs and do your own Web search to learn more. And the database does seem to have expanded, including more programs that it did previously.

So let’s call this a qualified find.

And, as always, have a great weekend.

Talking About Writers’ Residencies: An Interview with Stephanie Elizondo Griest

A version of this interview originally appeared in The Practicing Writer, May 2008.


by Erika Dreifus

Stephanie Elizondo Griest is another practicing writer I’ve come to know courtesy of e-mail. When she was awarded a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts last year, Stephanie contacted me, a past KHN resident, with a few questions about my experience there.

But it soon became clear to me that as much as I’ve learned about residency programs in my life as a practicing writer, Stephanie knows much more! So I asked her if she’d share with all of us some of her insights and advice.

First, a bit about our author: Stephanie has mingled with the Russian Mafiya, polished Chinese propaganda, and belly danced with Cuban rumba queens. These adventures inspired her award-winning memoir Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana (Villard/Random House, 2004) and guidebook 100 Places Every Woman Should Go (Travelers’ Tales, 2007). Atria/Simon & Schuster will publish her memoir Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines in 2008. She has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Latina Magazine, and the Associated Press. A 2005-2006 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, she lectures and performs nationwide, and recently won the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice reporting (editor’s note: this award includes a one-month stay at the Blue Mountain Center–another residency experience). Visit Stephanie’s Web site at

ERIKA DREIFUS: Stephanie, you’re obviously an intrepid traveler. When did residencies start to become part of your travels? Where were you in terms of your writing and publishing history?

STEPHANIE ELIZONDO GRIEST: I learned about the magical world of residencies just a few months shy of the deadline for my first book, Around the Bloc. I was struggling in New York at the time, sharing a small apartment with multiple roommates and working a full-time job. I desperately needed time and space to finish my book, so I applied to two colonies and got accepted at Ragdale. I very nearly turned it down, though, because of the cost. Not only would I have to buy a plane ticket to Chicago, but Ragdale also charges a daily fee. Fortunately, they offer financial aid in extreme cases, and when I sent in my microscopic W-2 form, they awarded me one in a jiffy.

I’ll never forget my first glimpse of Ragdale. It just radiated good vibes. I could feel it from inside the taxi. And by the time I entered my beautiful cloister, with its fireplace and screened-in porch and clawfoot tub, I was radiating, too — from happiness. Some of the best writing in my book occurred during those two weeks at Ragdale. The solitude enabled me to see the holes in my text and how best to fill them. Ragdale is also where I started referring to myself as a writer for the first time — and believing it.

ED: Your residency record includes an array of sojourns: Ragdale, Art Omi International (Ledig House), the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. You’ve also spent a year as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University. Tell us how you have discovered these opportunities. Which resources (besides, of course, The Practicing Writer!) do you turn to when you’re looking for residency possibilities?

SEG: For domestic residencies, I refer to the wonderful Web site of the Alliance of Artists Communities, at For international residencies, I scour the archives of ResArtis, at Whenever I arrive at a new residency, I quiz everyone about their favorite spots. Those of us who hop around from colony to colony are known as “colony whores,” and we like to compare notes!

ED: What qualities/characteristics do you look for in a residency program?

SEG: Every residency is glorious in its own special way, but because I operate on an extremely tight budget, I strive for programs that are either free of charge or that offer scholarships (or better yet, stipends!). Communal meals are also a priority, because the food is invariably home-cooked and delicious, and it is great fun to chat with the other residents. So that’s my criteria: no fees and free food.

ED: What practical advice would you give writers facing their first residency application(s)?

SEG: It is like applying to college. There are “long-shot” residencies, such as Yaddo and MacDowell, which can be as selective as the Ivy League. Other residencies, like Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Vermont Studio Center, are more welcoming to newer writers. My advice is to apply for as many as your time and budget will allow, targeting both the “long-shots” and “sure things.” Generally speaking, residencies that are free and located in the Northeast or West Coast are more competitive than residencies with daily fees located elsewhere in the United States. Apply to a good mix. And be sure to give your references plenty of time to write their letters, and send them a thank-you note/gift afterward (because before you know it, you’ll need another letter).

ED: Once a writer receives an acceptance/invitation to a residency program, how should s/he proceed? From your own experience, how can one best prepare for a residency?

SEG: Be open to the muses. I’ve seen writers arrive to residencies with the intention of slaving over a book of short stories, but instead they commence a memoir. Others are serious non-fiction types, but after a few days of wandering around the neighboring forest, they start composing poetry. You never know what will happen to you at a residency. While it is helpful to arrive with a project in mind, allow yourself to be smitten by the unexpected, and to follow it.

ED: I understand that you’ll be leaving shortly for a residency at Can Serrat in Spain. Tell us what has drawn you to that particular residency program, and what you plan to be working on while you’re there.

SEG: What drew me to Can Serrat? Location, location, location! They are nestled inside a rustic farmhouse in Monserrat Natural Park, about an hour’s drive from Barcelona, within walking distance of a monastery with a 1,200-year history. While there, I hope to complete a proposal for my next book and write an essay about my recent trip to Mozambique. But we’ll see what the muses have in store!

ED: How do you expect to organize your time at Can Serrat? Based on your experience, how would you advise writers to make the most of the time they’re given at residencies?

SEG: I am rather masochistic at residencies. As soon as my eyes open (generally between 8 – 9 a.m.), I wash my face, brush my teeth, plunk down at the desk, and stare at the computer screen until I am literally passing out from hunger (generally between 12 – 2 p.m.). Then I cook some oatmeal, go for a bike ride, check email, and — if I can stand it — write another hour or two. If I don’t drink too much wine at dinner, I usually edit the day’s work afterward, then read until my eyelids droop.

ED: How have your previous residencies enhanced your writing?

SEG: The sad truth about book writing is that unless you’re churning out best-sellers, you barely get paid enough to subsist. So my books (and career) would not exist without residencies. Around the Bloc became an entirely different creation during my two-week residency at Ragdale. While at Princeton, I wrote all of 100 Places Every Woman Should Go and sold my proposal for Mexican Enough. And I wrote every word of Mexican Enough at Art Omi, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, Dairy Hollow, and a silent Catholic retreat in South Texas called Lebh Shomea. Residencies allow me to maintain my gypsy writer lifestyle, rent-free.

ED: Any residency programs you haven’t yet attended but would like to? What appeals to you about them?

SEG: Ucross sounds pretty fabulous. I love the idea of living on a 22,000 acre ranch in Wyoming. And I’ve heard rave reviews about MacDowell. Both have rejected me three times apiece, but I firmly believe in applying for things until you get it or you die, whichever comes first. There’s also a colony in the South of France with my name written all over it….

ED: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

SEG: Even if you have an ideal working situation at home (i.e. no roommates/spouses/children/pets), you will still be far more productive at a residency. There is something quite profound about creating art in a space where only art is created. Muses seep into the woodwork. You feel compelled to rise and write in the morning. You grow inspired by the writers and artists sitting across the dinner table from you. And because the staff takes care of all the cooking and the cleaning and the purchasing of toilet paper, you get to do things time never allows at home, like taking long walks through silent woods and catching up your journal. Give yourself this gift of time and space, at least once in your career. I promise it will be sheer bliss.

And let me know how it goes! I’ll be touring the nation this fall, promoting my memoir Mexican Enough. It would be beautiful to see you. Or drop me a line via my Web site, Saludos!

(c) Copyright 2008 Erika Dreifus

NB: You can find an excerpt from Stephanie’s new memoir in the current issue of World Literature Today.

Friday Find: Monday Morning Markets/Jobs/Opportunities A Few Days Early

Since I’ll be away from the blog until the middle of next week I thought I’d offer the Monday Morning Markets/Jobs/Opportunities a few days early. Have a great weekend and see you back here soon!

If you haven’t seen the latest batch of anthology themes/calls for submission from A Cup of Comfort, click here for the full list!
Attention, European writers! The deadline (April 15, 2008) is fast approaching for applications for the Nico Colchester Journalism Fellowship. Intended “to help continental writers understand Britain and British writers understand continental Europe,” two awards are available this year. One is for a British or Irish applicant and will include a fellowship in continental Europe at an Economist office; the other is for an applicant from elsewhere in the EU, and will take place in London at the Financial Times. “Both winners will receive a bursary of £5,000 to cover accommodation and travel. To apply you must send a 1,000 word article on the subject of “Europe’s Message to the next American President,” plus your cv and a cover letter. No application fee. Details here. (Thanks to BJ Epstein for this tip.)
The Raumars Artist in Residence Program in Rauma, Finland, welcomes applications. Deadline is April 30, 2008, and I see no application fee. Note: “During 2009 Raumars realizes an art project with handicapped children, who has different kinds of disabilities. We warmly welcome artist who is willing to work with this group in Rauma special school.” Find out more here.
WOW! Women on Writing is seeking submissions for two upcoming issues, one themed on Retreats and Conferences (deadline is May 15, 2008) and the other on Personal Writing (deadline is June 17, 2008). Pays: $50-$150. See announcement here. (via Paying Writer Jobs)
New Writing Fellows program at the University of Houston invites applications from individuals who have received the Ph.D. or M.F.A. degree within the past five years. “Writing Fellows normally teach the equivalent of four sections per semester of the Freshman Composition sequence (1303 or 1304), and are expected to participate in the events, workshops, seminars offered by the Department’s writing program. Fellowships are for two years and carry a stipend of $30,000, plus benefits, and a budget of up to $1,200 for conference travel and professional development.” Deadline: not indicated, but review of applications will begin on May 9, 2008. NO APPLICATION FEE INDICATED. More information here.
Been yearning for a set of market guides? A package including our three e-books (focused on no-cost contests, paying essay markets, and paying markets for book reviewers) is on the auction block here. As I’ve mentioned before, this is for a very good cause. So help your writing practice and do good for others at the same time!
And even a few jobs to tell you about!

Assistant Professor of English (Creative Writing-Poetry), State University of New York at Potsdam
Writing and Literature Faculty
, Massachusetts Bay Community College
Editor, Digital Journalism Project, Nieman Foundation at Harvard University (Massachusetts)
Director, The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, Maryland)
Senior Editorial Specialist, Weill Cornell Medical College (New York)

A Doctor’s Initiation (and an Author’s): An Interview with Sandeep Jauhar


by Erika Dreifus

(This interview was first published in The Practicing Writer‘s January 2008 issue.)

A little more than a year ago, I read an article in New York magazine by Sandeep Jauhar. Since I’d been following his writing with great interest for several years–he is married to the elder sister of one of my own sister’s very best friends–I was delighted to learn in that article’s bio note that he was completing a memoir. I e-mailed him right away, and asked if he’d participate in an interview for The Practicing Writer once the book was published. He responded immediately, and affirmatively, and most graciously.

So I am thrilled to present this interview, timed to coincide with Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s publication of Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation. Knowing Sandeep (and having read many examples of his excellent prose) before the book’s publication, I suspected he’d have a lot to share with us, especially concerning writing nonfiction about science and balancing writing with another, highly demanding full-time career (plus family life). He hasn’t disappointed.

But before we get to the Q&A, let’s introduce him a little more completely. Sandeep Jauhar is the Director of the Heart Failure Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, the largest program of its kind on Long Island. He trained as an experimental physicist at the University of California-Berkeley, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow. After earning his Ph.D., he went to medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. He completed internship, residency, and a cardiology fellowship at prominent teaching hospitals in New York City. Since 1998 he has been writing regularly about medicine for The New York Times. He is the recipient of a South Asian Journalists Association Special Recognition Award for outstanding stories about medicine. His first book, Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation, which focuses on a key year in his medical training, has just been published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He lives in New York City with his wife and their son.

Erika Dreifus (ED): Fairly early in your memoir, you tell us that “journalism had always been a passion” of yours. You mention that you spent the summer before starting medical school on a science journalism fellowship sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. You also mention an internship you undertook–while you were a full-time medical student–with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Please tell us a little about your training and development as a writer–how these (and any other) experiences proved formative.

Sandeep Jauhar (SJ): In high school I always enjoyed writing. But like most budding writers, I didn’t know how to parlay my interest into a career. When I went to Berkeley in 1985, I made a deliberate choice to focus on science and math. My writing interest lay dormant for many years until I came across a brochure advertising the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program. I applied and, much to my amazement, got the fellowship. I spent the summer of 1995 at the Washington, DC, bureau of Time magazine.

That experience convinced me that journalism and writing had to be a part of my career if I was going to feel fulfilled. Heeding the advice of journalism mentors, I landed a reporting internship at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during my second year in medical school. The internship taught me how to write 500-word news stories on deadline. These pieces and some longer feature articles became the portfolio I presented to The New York Times. Cornelia Dean, the science editor, gave me my first big break in 1998 by accepting a query for a 1200-word piece about the closing of a leprosy hospital in Louisiana. I eventually started writing essays about internship and residency for the science section of The Times. (My first essay required 3 or 4 complete rewrites! I remember Cornelia advising me to stop being “writerly” and just tell the story.) After a couple of years I moved on to 3000-word pieces for the Sunday Times Magazine.

ED: Which specific writers, teachers, and other works have influenced you?

SJ: Several doctor-writers have made a strong impact me: Abraham Verghese, Melvin Konner (whose memoir Becoming a Doctor accompanied me everywhere during my first two years of medical school as I looked forward to my clinical rotations on the hospital wards), and Berton Roueche (the old New Yorker writer whose baroque clinical tales inspired a generation of readers). I also enjoy reading Atul Gawande’s insightful essays in The New Yorker.

The non-medical memoir that has had the most influence on me is Stop-Time by Frank Conroy. Conroy, of course, ran the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for many years. His memoir of adolescence is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. When I first met with my book editor, Paul Elie, he asked me about some of my favorite books, the sort of books that I might aspire to write. When I mentioned Stop-Time, Paul immediately started recounting the prologue, which finds Conroy speeding in a car through the English countryside. (At that point I knew I was working with the right editor.) Other memoirs I’ve especially enjoyed reading recently are James McBride’s The Color of Water and Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone.

ED: What resources might you recommend for those interested in developing their skills in (or simply learning more about) writing about science for a general audience?

SJ: The Mass Media Fellowship is a great way to start for scientists and engineers. For non-scientists, I’d recommend making a habit of reading the science section of The New York Times and science pieces in The New Yorker. The “best science writing” anthologies are also excellent introductions.

ED: One of the episodes in this book that really caught my attention concerns your first visit to the Times offices. I won’t ask you to recount that here (readers, you’ll have to check it out yourself!). But I will ask you to describe a bit about another event: the first Times essay acceptance. As you narrate it, the publication of your essay (a piece of writing whose purpose you characterize as “to warn hospital administrators and future residents to the dangers” of an element of your own training, “caused a firestorm” at the hospital. To put it bluntly, not everyone at the hospital was happy with it. Were you aware of the reaction the essay might provoke ahead of time? And, on a related note, how did you learn to negotiate the particular ethical and professional concerns you have faced as someone whose work as a writer is so entwined with the very personal medical stories of your patients?

SJ: I knew the essay would not be well received, but at that point in my internship, I didn’t care a whole lot about what hospital administrators thought of me. I wanted to see the essay get published, for other residents, and also for myself.

Preserving patient confidentiality is a concern of any medical writer. I believe that my work as a doctor is a part of my story, but obviously this story overlaps with the stories of my patients, so privacy and confidentiality need to be protected. It is probably more difficult to do this in a publication like the Times than in magazines or in books, where pseudonyms can be used and identifying details can be changed. These devices aren’t allowed at the Times, so one often has to leave out interesting details, which isn’t ideal for writing but is obviously the right thing to do.

ED: In the memoir’s acknowledgments, you thank your agent, Todd Shuster, whom you say “knew [you] should write a book well before” you did. That’s intriguing. Tell us more! How, in fact, did you realize that you had a book to write? And how did you come to work with this agent?

SJ: Todd actually contacted me after an essay of mine about mysterious fevers was published in the Times in November 1999. He tried to convince me for many years to try my hand at a book, but I could never find the right subject. Eventually, I proposed compiling the essays I had published in the Times into a book. We circulated a proposal and received interest from several publishers. FSG was interested, too, but not in the book I had proposed. They suggested instead a book about my education as a doctor. That was in August 2003.

ED: Since I know a little bit about you–I know that in addition to treating patients you teach medicine; I know your wonderful wife and son (and I can attest that you are a hands-on dad–I’ve seen you with your adorable little boy at his swimming lessons!); I continue to see your byline in the Times. When on earth did you manage to write this book? Many writers find it tiresome to talk about their “routine,” but I’d really like to know how you’ve been able to nurture your writing career, especially given how consuming a life in medicine, as you describe it in your book, can be.

SJ: People find time for what they enjoy. I write on weekends and at night after my son goes to bed. I sometimes find time at the hospital during the day. Luckily for me, my work informs my writing, so the whole thing is sort of “organic.”

ED: Anything else you’d like to share with us? News on upcoming appearances, for example?

SJ: [In the near future] I have two book readings scheduled: on January 3 at 6 pm at the Corner Bookstore in Manhattan (Madison at 93rd St) [Editor’s note: I attended this packed reading, and it was terrific] and on January 17 at 7 pm at the Barnes and Noble in Manhasset. [Editor’s Note: On December 27, Sandeep and his book were also featured on National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation.”]

ED: Thank you so much, Sandeep.

Visit to learn more about Sandeep Jauhar and his new book.

(c) 2007 Erika Dreifus

Friday Find: Science Writing Internships and Fellowships

This may be my last post for a few days. Practicing Writing will most likely resume in the middle of next week, and all you wonderful Practicing Writer subscribers can look forward to receiving your January newsletters a day or two after that.

Just to pique your curiosity, I’ll let you know that this next issue will feature an interview with a memoirist who has a particular interest in science writing. (If you aren’t yet a subscriber, you still have time to sign up–as always, subscriptions are free and we keep your e-mail address confidential.)

To complement the interview–which touches on the writer’s fellowship and internship experiences–I thought it would be a good idea to compile a list of opportunities that might be especially appealing to those who write (or want to write) about science, health, and/or medicine. If you’re aware of similar programs (please note–I’ve focused here on programs that pay their participants), please share your knowledge in comments.

Internships (especially for undergraduates and recent graduates)

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Minority Science Writers Internship
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science News Writing Internship
Argonne National Laboratory Science Writing Internship for Undergraduates
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Internships in Science Communication
Jackson Laboratory Science Writer Internship
Kaiser Media Internships in Health Reporting
National Cancer Institute Graduate Internships in Health Communications
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center Office of Communications Science Writing Internship

Fellowships (most targeted to professional journalists)

American Academy of Neurology Journalism Fellowship
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program
Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism
Health Coverage Fellowships (for New Englanders)
Kaiser Media Fellowships in Health
Kaiser Mini-Fellowships in Global Health Reporting
Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at MIT
Marine Biological Laboratory Science Journalism Program
Metcalf Institute Annual Workshop for Journalists
Metcalf Institute Diversity Fellowship in Environmental Reporting
Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental Journalism
Societe de Chimie Industrielle (American Section) Fellowship
Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science and Religion
USC Annenberg/California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships