Meet Maud Casey, Winner of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing

I recently read The Selected Letters of Jack Kerouac, and couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy. All he wanted to do was write. He wanted to sit down alone in a cabin by a wood-burning stove and write. Reality wasn't so kind. He had familial obligations, reporters calling at all hours, and fans (and super-fans) climbing over the backyard fence to speak with the spiritual guru of the Beat Generation.

While many writers (gratefully) aren't exposed to this extreme level of distraction, it's nonetheless a common problem, particularly for professors and/or "mid-career" authors who lack the financial resources to check out of society for six months. Which brings us to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship.

The good news? The fellowships are intended for writers, scholars, artists, historians, scientists, and university faculty members who have already demonstrated "exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts."

The bad news? In the most recent funding cycle, 3,100 applicants applied, and only 175 were selected. That's an acceptance rate of a mere five percent. One winner is University of Maryland creative writing professor Maud Casey. As part of the fellowship, Casey will receive (unspecified) funding to work on her fiction writing. Casey is working on a collection of stories—preliminarily called Iconographies—which focuses on the patients of 19th-century neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, who worked at a Parisian hospital called the Salpêtrière, and is most famous for his work on the diagnosis of hysteria. Casey plans to visit Paris to conduct archival research at the hospital using the fellowship money.

This brings us back to poor Jack's dilemma. The fellowship affords winners two things writers—especially working university professors—so desperately need: time and space. "The award means that you can take a year’s leave," Joshua Weiner, a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow, said. "The most important kind of time for a writer comes in contiguous blocks; that’s the only way you really get anything done. And as great teaching is, finding those blocks of time is made more difficult by a full time teaching load."

Click here for information on how to apply for the fellowship.