This Spring, after some long years, news came that brought one of those family moments that speak so clearly to the mystery of life: when it came, my wife and I cried with joy and our three daughters danced. I know many of you are familiar with the many rejections as well as the quiet beauty of the writing life. My first story was taken by South Dakota Review 10 years ago, after 8 years of rejections. Now 18 years later I received a call from Michael Collier, director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and Poetry Editor at Harcourt to say my story collection American Masculine had won the Bakeless Prize and would be published by Graywolf Press. That's what all the tears and dancing were about!
Along the way, there have been some very joyful moments in among the over 400 rejection slips for poems and stories. Of course, writing, or trying to see people with new and compassionate eyes is not about stories being accepted for publication by the journals we love. But when those acceptance letters or emails or phone calls come in it always reminds me of the subtle presence of gratitude in the world. Last fall, when the lovely editors here at Crab Creek Review informed me "Rodin's The Hand of God" had won the CCR Fiction Prize it came when I was personally taking a hard close look at writing as vocation, and doubting if I had the necessary heart for the work. Happily, I'm still searching. Crab Creek Review is an important part of the nexus in the literary arts where poetry and prose intersect, and in this place I think there is strength and comfort for me and others who hope to find life's vitality even in the global uncertainty that often haunts people and nations.
The story taken by Crab Creek Review is one of the central stories in the collection that won the Bakeless Prize and that is a tribute to CCR, especially considering the history of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Bakeless Prize. Since 1926 the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference has convened every August. The conference, founded by Robert Frost and Willa Cather, brings together established poets and prose writers, editors, and literary agents to work with writers at various stages of their careers. While part of Bread Loaf's reputation was built on the writers associated with it-W. H. Auden, Wallace Stegner, Katherine Anne Porter, Toni Morrison, and Adrienne Rich, to name a few-it has an equally high reputation for finding and supporting writers of promise in the earliest stages of their careers. Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Anne Sexton, May Swenson, Russell Banks, Joan Didion, Richard Ford, Julia Alvarez, Carolyn Forché, Linda Pastan, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Andrea Barrett, and Tim O'Brien are some of the poets, novelists, and short story writers who benefited from early associations with Bread Loaf.
Again, gratitude is something that I'm finding it hard to live without. I believe art can give us the opportunity to face despair with longing, forgiveness, responsibility, and the generosity that can be a profound undercurrent even in the complexity and chaos of contemporary life. Van Gogh said, 'The greatest work of art is to love someone.' I agree. An artistic sense of love brings about justice and engenders grace. I believe the artistry involved in truly loving and serving others is inherently imbued with authentic power. In the artists I look to for direction-from van Gogh to Bach, from Alice Walker to Marilynne Robinson-- I believe it is this power that helps heal the heart of the world.
I want to say thanks to the whole Crab Creek Review community for your care and the light you give to me and to many!
Bio: Shann Ray is the winner of the Subterrain Poetry Prize, the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize, and the Ruminate Short Story Prize. His work has also appeared in Montana Quarterly, Poetry International, South Dakota Review, McSweeney's, Narrative, and StoryQuarterly among other venues. He holds a Ph.D. in systems psychology from the University of Alberta in Canada, an MA in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University, and an MFA in poetry and fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. He grew up in Montana and spent part of his childhood on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeast Montana. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Spokane, Washington, where he teaches leadership and forgiveness studies at Gonzaga University.
His collection of stories, American Masculine, won the Bakeless Fiction Prize and will appear in 2011 with Graywolf Press. See Shann's website at www.shannray.com