By Arimeta Diop, Staff Writer
In a moment of glory for the winners of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards, the NYU Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House hosted each author for a reading this past Sunday. The proud featured winners included Lina Maria Ferira Cabeza-Vanegas, Danielle Geller, Jamey Hatley, Ladee Hubbard, Airea D. Matthews and Asako Serizawa.
This reading marked the 22nd year of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, which is dedicated to supporting women writers at the beginning of their literary careers. The foundation prides itself, and rightly so, on being the only national literary award program singularly committed to this mission.
Cabeza-Vanegas opened the night’s reading with a creative non-fiction piece titled “Lovestory” which followed an unexpected couple of cats through their stormy romance. The narrative at first appears follows only this storyline, but in the midst of the piece, the narrator also tells a story about her family in the background of the already intensely detailed, comedic story. Lines of the prose were in Spanish and thickened the images she created as it further solidified the setting of a Spanish-speaking home. Cabeza-Vanegas’ use of repetition of sounds created a quick pace.
Two particular standouts of the night came from Hatley and Matthews. Hatley read her fiction excerpt titled “Fiction” in a deep, throaty-but-undeniably-clear voice that added a further warmth to her words than already present. The piece’s delivery rivaled its characters in its ability to intrigue of the audience. Throughout her reading, the setting of the work was repeated in such a way that it made it seem entirely separate from the rest of the world. It was an effective choice of device, since it was set in an all black neighborhood: a place in history already made socially separate. Matthews similarly utilized a pointed delivery in her reading of five poems from a soon to be published manuscript. Each work featured plays on words, themes of family and a powerful voice from the narrator which was only further emphasized by Matthews’ striking voice.
Following all of the readings, there was a wine and cheese reception as well as time for audience members to speak with the award recipients. Matthews, upon being asked about her experience of finding out about being nominated for the award and then receiving it she said, “[It was] a surprise, because the nomination process is kept so private.” Matthews, as well as the other winners, does know know who nominated her for the award. “[This is] an angelic award,” Matthews said. “It teaches you to have faith in the work you’re doing.”
Hatley expressed similar sentiments. “Someone caught you working, which is the best kind of kindness [since] you don’t have to hustle,” Hatley said. All of the recipients said that they plan to utilize the award money to cover expenses as they each work on their next publications.