Kristina Darling – How to Locate and Apply for Grants for Your Writing Project
Nonfiction Authors Association Podcast | June 29, 2022
“What it all comes down to is research. Most of the time writers simply don’t know about all of the rich and wonderful opportunities that are available to them.” -Kristina Darling
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of thirty-four books, including DIFFICULT: Essays on Contemporary Feminist Poetry (Black Ocean, forthcoming); Look to Your Left: A Feminist Poetics of Spectacle (Akron Poetry Series, forthcoming); Angel of the North (Salmon Poetry, forthcoming in 2023); Je Suis L’Autre: Essays & Interrogations (C&R Press, 2017), which was named one of the “Best Books of 2017” by The Brooklyn Rail; DARK HORSE: Poems (C&R Press, 2018), which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly; and two critical studies on contemporary poetry, which are forthcoming from Clemson University Press and Spuyten Duyvil Press, respectively. Her work has been recognized with three residencies at Yaddo, where she has held both the Martha Walsh Pulver Residency for a Poet and the Howard Moss Residency in Poetry; a Fundación Valparaíso fellowship; a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, funded by the Heinz Foundation; an artist-in-residence position at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris; five residencies at the American Academy in Rome; two grants from the Whiting Foundation; a Faber Residency in the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities; a Morris Fellowship in the Arts; and the Dan Liberthson Prize from the Academy of American Poets, which she received on three separate occasions, among many other awards and honors. Her poems appear in Guernica, The Harvard Review, Poetry International, New American Writing, Nimrod, Passages North, The Mid-American Review, and on the Academy of American Poets’ website, Poets.org. She has published essays in Agni, Ploughshares, The Brooklyn Rail, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, The Green Mountains Review, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review, and numerous other magazines. Kristina currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press and Tupelo Quarterly, an opinion columnist at The Los Angeles Review of Books, a contributing writer at Publishers Weekly, a staff blogger at The Kenyon Review, and a freelance book critic at The New York Times Book Review. In 2019, she was named to the U.S. Fulbright Commission’s roster of Senior Specialists.
Find the video podcast, show notes, links, quotes, and podcast transcript below.
Replayed on June 26, 2022 at 10:00am PM
- Hambidge Center
- Helen Wurlitzer Foundation
- Kittredge Fund
- The Elizabeth George Foundation
- Ora Lerman trust
In this episode…
- Grant funding is available for writers at the local, state and national levels.
- Residential fellowships are also available for writers.
- International opportunities are very comprehensive.
- How to begin with an initial letter of inquiry.
- How to avoid making common mistakes.
- How much money to request.
- What kind of credentials do you need.
- When to apply for residencies.
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Hi everyone. Welcome to our Teleseminar Series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Kristina Darling, and we’re going to be talking about how to locate and apply for grants to support your writing projects. What a cool topic. I’m your host, Stephanie Chandler. I appreciate you spending time with us today. And now I’d love to introduce our guest today. Kristina Marie Darling is the author of 34 books, including Difficult: Essays On Contemporary Feminist Poetry, which is forthcoming with Black Ocean. Her work has been recognized with numerous residency programs and awards. She also currently serves as editor in chief of Tupelo Press and Tupelo Quarterly. She’s an opinion columnist for the Los Angeles Review of Books, a contributing writer at Publishers Weekly, a staff blogger at the Kenyan review, and a freelance book critic at the New York Times Book Review. In 2019 she was named to the US Fulbright Commission’s Roster of Senior Specialists. Kristina, that is such an impressive resume. Welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
Oh, thank you so much for having me. And thank you for the introduction, I will do my best to live up to it.
Productivity is definitely one of your strengths, I think. So you have done a lot of work using grants, and also writers residencies, which we’ll be talking about shortly. And I think that a lot of writers think that grants are maybe only available to nonprofits and things like that. But that’s not necessarily true. So could you start by sharing with us some of the potential opportunities that nonfiction writers might find when they’re seeking funding for their projects?
Absolutely. So for any individual artist or nonfiction writer, there’s usually grant funding available at the local, state and national levels. For example, an artist living in Chicago will likely qualify for project funding from his or her city or county. So every city or county has an Arts Council. And they usually offer grants for individual writers or artists to complete specific projects. For example, if you need to travel to an archive to finish your nonfiction book, they will give you funds to achieve that. So there’s usually funding available from the writer’s city or county, as well as state funding.
So for example, for that artist living in Chicago–they’ll qualify for something from their city, but also they’ll qualify for the Illinois Arts Council. And then grant funding is also available on the national level. So an NEA grant, or an NIH grant, or something like that. But what most people don’t know about is–there are tons of private foundations such as the Kittredge Fund, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and the Ora Lerman trust, all of which fund individual writers whose work supports their mission. And what it all comes down to is research.
Most of the time, writers simply don’t know about all of the rich and wonderful opportunities that are available to them. So in addition to all of these brands, all of these private foundations that are hoping to help out artists and writers, we’re witnessing a veritable proliferation of residential fellowships for writers. Many of these are specifically geared toward nonfiction writers. And so the idea is that an art center will give you the gift of time, space, and community just to pursue your nonfiction book. Many of these residential fellowships attract creative practitioners from all around the world. For example, when I was a fellow in residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, we had artists from China. We had a wonderful translator. A photographer from Bulgaria, a composer from California. People came from all over the world to Nebraska city to find community and work on their writing–it was so inspiring. And it really helps you to network with artists outside of your chosen discipline. So I had the pleasure of meeting composers, as well as other writers, sculptors, photographers–and it definitely expands your sense of what is possible within your nonfiction project.
And I will say that like grants–most people are only aware of the most visible grants or fellowships. Most people know about the NEA, NEH, Yaddo, Mcdowell, and all of those highly publicized opportunities, but there are so many other exciting grants, as well as exciting residency programs. And many of these residency programs offer travel stipends, great food, and community–if you’re just willing to do your research.
So wow, that was so much amazing information. And I have to say, I don’t know that our community is familiar with the NEA and the NEH grants, and some of those others. Can you just tell us what those are about?
So those are a national competition–I think they alternate. You know, one year, they’ll do poetry. The next year, they’ll do prose, but it’s just a national competition, and the winners receive $25,000 to pursue their book. I think it’s definitely worth applying for those kinds of highly visible and publicized opportunities. Also, have a backup, and look into some of these private foundations that are well-kept secrets within the grant writing community, because there won’t be as many applications. And you know, the money will still get the job done. So I would say, do your research, apply to a wide range of opportunities. You know, the highly visible ones, but also the lesser known opportunities.
So when you say, ‘Do your research,’ should we be doing internet searches, going to the library? How would you go about looking for these types of things?
That’s a great question. And I think that’s something that writers struggle with. They just don’t know where to go. But one resource that I would like to introduce–I call it the Database database. It is called Grantspace.org, and they have pulled a selection of resources. So this is a website that will take you to the organization’s own list of curated opportunities for individual writers and artists, as well as a searchable database of foundation grants to individuals. But they also offer webinars and online training modules to help you strengthen your grant writing skills. So Grantspace.org is a really great place to look. artgrants.blogspot.com is a very comprehensive list of funding for individual artists, and for very specialized grants. A lot of time,s foundations will give grants to specific types of nonfiction writers. For example, women nonfiction writers, nonfiction writers of Cuban descent. So very particular types of writers and particular types of projects. So for those specialized grants, there’s a website called Womenarts.org, and they have a tab that says funding resources. And then you’ll click on sources for individual artists. There are numerous other really informative websites that list opportunities for grants regularly. So funds for writers and editors. Rice University also maintains a wonderful directory that includes grants for creative nonfiction, as well as more academically inclined book projects. So if you know, for example, you need to go to an archive and complete research, or you’re looking for a Travel to Collections grant to do work in a specific library or collection for an academic nonfiction book, you’ll find a lot of those opportunities on Rice University’s database. So that’s the really good one for academic writers.
Wow. This is just so much great information. And I’m thinking about our listeners. This is probably the day to join us. So you can get this recording if you don’t already have access to our recordings.
A quick question-would you like information about where to find out about residencies as well?
Yeah. So why don’t we?
Actually, Kristina, can you hold that until we talk about residencies? Let’s hold that for a minute, because I want to talk a little bit more about the grant opportunities. And I’m just going to add grants.gov is a big government one. It’s not writer specific at all, by any means. And you may not even find anything writing related, but I wanted to mention that one as well. It’s interesting because occasionally I hear an interesting story about a grant, and several years back someone had introduced me–and I wish I could remember the girl’s name–but she had applied for a grant to teach entrepreneurship across the US. And she received a six-figure grant that let her travel for a year teaching her entrepreneurship programs. And I just thought that was so amazing that that kind of thing exists out there.
Absolutely. That’s a great addition.
So many creative opportunities for writers who maybe also speak, or teach, or have other businesses. So wow, thank you for sharing so many great resources with us. So let’s say you find a resource or a grant opportunity, and you want to apply for it. What is that process like?
Yeah, so many grants–like the Kittredge fund, or the Elizabeth George Foundation–will ask for an initial letter of inquiry, which describes the project, its scope, the budget and your credentials for undertaking the project. And so the purpose of this initial letter of inquiry, is for the foundation to get to know you a bit. And to ascertain whether or not it’s a potential match–you know, whether your work supports their mission and their purpose, before they ask you to send additional and often much more comprehensive materials.
So once you’ve submitted your letter of inquiry, and they write back asking you for more, the materials are often a lot more comprehensive. And in such cases, as with the Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, it’s as many as six letters of reference. But as you draft your initial letter of intent, there are specific questions you’ll need to address if you’re going to win over the application committee.
So the first question is, how much money are you requesting? And that’s actually a more complex and loaded question than people like to think. I had a colleague who wrote into a very small foundation asking for $80,000. He was going to just take the year off, travel the world, and write his book, and not work his usual job. And so the problem was–that was their whole budget. And that would have taken away from maybe 10 or 20 other artists who maybe requested smaller, more reasonable amounts. So in general, when you’re applying to a smaller foundation, make your request small and reasonable. And if you need to, you can just apply for more than one grant. So you want to choose your funding target and say how much money you’re requesting.
The second question you’ll need to address is the nature of the project for which funds are being sought. You want to include a brief, say a 100 to 200-word description, and then the next paragraph–for each of these questions, you can simply dedicate a paragraph of your letter, right? Funding target, description of the project. The next kind of paragraph or bullet point would be–how does the project support the grant agency’s mission? And so to address this question, you’ll need to see if the funding source to which you’re applying has a mission statement. And sometimes these can be very specialized. Like with a Kittredge Fund, which is aimed at artists and writers in the early stages of a promising career, or the Elizabeth George Foundation. They make grants to prose writers who are unpublished. So you want to situate your project in relation to the grant agency’s existing mission.
And so the next kind of bullet point on that list for the letter of inquiry that you want to address is–why are you the one who’s best suited to carry out this project? So you want to give specific details about your credentials, which may include formal training that relates to the project, publications in that genre, as well as awards, honors and recognition, and all of that good stuff. And then the last kind of bullet point is just–how will the funds be used? So many applicants actually use this project, or this project statement section, to talk about artist residencies, writing conferences, workshops, and training they wish to avail themselves of, and then explain how that will assist with the completion of the project.
Wow. So it kind of parallels a query letter to a publisher, right?
Absolutely, definitely. The query letter is a genre. And once you’ve mastered it, it’s like mastering the sonnet, or a Villanelle, or the lyric essay. You can take it any direction you want to go.
That’s awesome. And then, are there rookie mistakes that people commonly make with this process?
Oh, most definitely. So I’ve served on a number of juries for both artist residencies and grants. And a lot of the mistakes tend to be similar across the board. So when, you know, a writer is in a situation where they have to submit a project proposal, or a cover letter and a work sample, the most common pitfall is that there is no discernible connection between the project proposal and the work sample. So you’re probably wondering, why is this a pitfall? And this is because the work sample–if you’re pairing it with a project proposal, or a letter of intent–a work sample is intended to show that the applicant has the technical ability to carry out the proposed project. So the work sample supports the project proposal in all cases.
The second common mistake is, you know, you’re doing a grant application, and you outline three or four different things that you’re kind of working on. This is a pitfall because the jury might wonder if the applicant lacks focus. So single-mindedness of purpose with grant applications. You want to choose a specific project, even if you have three or four things percolating, choose one that will appeal to that particular selection committee. So another common pitfall is, you know, someone’s doing an application, and they choose very new work that they’re excited about, that may lack polish for the writing sample.
One more pitfall is egg surfing much longer work. And this is especially an issue with nonfiction applications. So extra thing much longer work for the writing sample, without offering the context or the background for the jury to understand and appreciate the work. Because the thing you have to remember is that–the people reading your application are usually not specialists in your particular topic. So use the first chapter of a book project. It’s a really great strategy, and it saves you all of that problem of the selection committee lacking the background to understand and appreciate your work.
And just one more tip, follow up with your references and make sure they’re responsible about sending their ref letters if they are required for an application. Because a lot of times, if an application is incomplete, it will not be reviewed, and you’ll just automatically get rejected. So choose reference letter writers that will be responsible for you. And just don’t hesitate to follow up with them as part of their job. Those are the most common mistakes. And if you can avoid those mistakes, you’re golden in general.
That sounds like amazing advice. And you mentioned the jury a couple of times. So are those who received the grants usually chosen by several people, a group of peers? Or how is that typically decided?
That’s a good thing to keep in mind too, because in general, with a grant or residency or, you know, many other funding opportunities, you’ll have a panel of readers who rate and score applications. And usually, the organization has internal criteria for how applications are scored. So a lot of it will be the strength and the relevance of the project, the artistic merit of the work sample. But sometimes these scoring sheets that the jurors get are very specific. I recall being on a jury where they asked about the first page of the work sample–the opening. Every organization is slightly different in its criteria. But the thing to bear in mind is that the juries rotate. So some years, you know, a place like Yaddo, or McDowell, will have a very experimentally-minded jury. Other years, it will be a very traditional jury. They rotate them. In some instances every year, in some instances, every two years. In some cases, every application cycle gets a new jury. So it’s definitely–if you’re not accepted, or you’re not granted funding, reapply, because your application will be seen by different eyes.
Wonderful advice. Alright. Well, I’m hoping everyone’s gonna go out and look for some grants after listening to all of that. That’s amazing. And I’m so glad we have a little bit of time left because I definitely would love to talk a little bit about these residency programs, because I think that a lot of our community members really don’t even know that these things exist. Or maybe they think that residency programs are for, you know, true career writers, whereas a lot of our community members are maybe writing their first book, and it ties into their business, or they just want to write one book. Whatever the case may be–Kristina, tell us what a residency is, and what kinds of opportunities are out there.
A residency is basically a community of working artists. And it’s run by an art center that will grant you time, space, and community to pursue a specific project. And a lot of the time, if you go to a residency–like when I was at Yaddo, every meal is prepared for you. And you don’t have to worry about housekeeping or cleaning, all you have to do is write and participate in a vibrant arts community. So I cannot say enough good things about the people I’ve met at artist residencies, because the conversations I’ve had there have really expanded my sense of what’s possible in my own work, and really challenged me in a way that I think is productive for writers. So in addition to time and space, there’s the added bonus of just meeting really interesting people.
And so there are a couple of really good databases that I’d like to share with you where you can find out about these kinds of opportunities. So for domestic opportunities–opportunities within the United States, go to the alliance of artistscommunities.org. And the site is searchable by residency location, discipline, deadline, and application process. So whether it’s an open application versus by nomination only, and funding structure. And what’s really useful about this site is that each entry on the website displays the number of applicants versus the number of artists in residence. So then you can strategize, right? If the acceptance rate is 10%, then you’ll say, ‘Okay, maybe I need to apply to a couple of other ones that are more open to emerging artists.’ So for strategizing, the Alliance of Artist Communities is also really good. For international opportunities, Res Artis is very comprehensive. It’s searchable by country, funding structure, discipline, and deadline. Res Artis also has a directory of grant funding sources that is organized by world region. So if you need money to travel to the residency, they’ve also got that covered, and there are resources available to help you with that. For international residency opportunities, transartists.org, and residencyunlimited.org will also have a slightly different selection of opportunities.
Wonderful. Oh my goodness. And then–so a residency, where you go and you have this wonderful unlimited time to write, and they’re feeding you, and all of your obligations are out of the way. How long does a residency usually last? Is it a week? Is it a month? Is it longer than that?
Oh, it’s completely up to you. So a lot of times, when you apply for residency, you’ll request a chunk of time. So the first time I went to Yaddo, I requested three weeks, because that was all I needed to finish my project. The third time I went to Yaddo, I had a much more ambitious–and at the time unrealized–projects, I requested six weeks. So a lot of times you’ll apply–other residencies like, for example, the Brush Creek Foundation in Wyoming–you apply for a specific month, and you go there with a cohort of artists who all arrive, say the first of March, and leave the last day of March. So you request, you know, either a specific month and a chunk of time, but there are artist residencies of all different lengths. You can go to, say, the Hambidge Center for two weeks to two months. There’s also longer residencies, like the Helen Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico offers a three-month residency in Taos. So once again, it’s the importance of doing research, you know. Whatever chunk of time you need for your book, you can find it, if you’re willing to put in the work of doing the research.
Wow, this has been so interesting. Kristina, is there anything else we should know or that I’ve not asked you about yet?
I would just say, depending on what time of year you’re applying to artist residencies, there can be significantly more or less applications. So for strategic value, this is something to keep in mind. So most people apply to residencies in the summer, because this is when academics, teachers, and college professors are off. So if you’re going to apply to residencies in the summer, you want to apply to a lot more programs, because they just get flooded. But a lot of times in the winter, spring, and fall, there are not nearly as many applications. So suppose you have a dream residency, right? You’ve always wanted to go to Yaddo or you’ve always wanted to go to Ragdale, or some other wonderful art center. You know, applying in the offseason can give you a little bit of an edge in terms of the competitiveness of the applicant pool.
Wow, this has been absolutely fabulous. I know you offer some services as well. So can you tell our listeners about what it is that you do and how they can connect with you?
Yeah, thanks so much for asking about my small business. I have a consulting business, Penelope Coaching and Consulting. And we offer application coaching, professional development coaching, manuscript consultations, and book publicity. So you can find us online at penelopeconsulting.com. Or feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com. And I hope to hear from you soon.
Thank you so much. We really appreciate your time today.
Carla King 30:02
Thank you so much for joining us today. We conduct podcast interviews every week with an archive episode once per month. Find our podcast schedule and replays on the Events tab at nonfictionauthorsassociation.com. Or better yet, subscribe on YouTube and give us feedback. If you liked this episode, please consider giving us a thumbs up and you’re always welcome to use the comments to tell us what you liked and what you’d like to hear next. Thank you, and see you next time!
Quotes from our guest…
“Most people are only aware of the most visible grants or fellowships but there are so many other exciting grants, as well as exciting residency programs.”
“What it all comes down to is research. Most of the time writers simply don’t know about all of the rich and wonderful opportunities that are available to them.”
“I cannot say enough good things about the people I’ve met at artists’ residencies, because the conversations I’ve had there have really expanded my sense of what’s possible in my own work, and really challenged me in a way that I think is productive for writers.”
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