OVERVIEW: United States Artists provides unrestricted $50,000 grants to artists across eight different creative disciplines: Architecture & Design, Crafts & Traditional Arts, Dance, Literature, Media, Music, Theater, and Visual Arts.
IP TAKE: Support for creative writing is at the forefront of this giving. Needless to say, this is a competitive grant. It’s an elusive one too; you must be nominated for it, and the nominators are anonymous. The best strategy is to look through its list of previous selection panelists to get an idea of who might be connected to the process.
PROFILE: United States Artists (USA) was established in 2005 by the Ford, Rockefeller, Rasmuson and Prudential Foundations to “invest in America’s finest artists and illuminate the value of artists to society.” Today, the organization is funded by a range of foundations and individuals, and has its own permanent endowment that allows its USA Fellows program to provide unrestricted grants of $50,000 each to as many as 50 creative artists each year across eight different creative disciplines that USA delineates as Architecture & Design, Crafts & Traditional Arts, Dance, Literature, Media, Music, Theater, and Visual Arts.
Support of creative writing (which USA calls "literature") is at the forefront of this giving. It makes up almost 19 percent of all fellowships. With something this fantastic, you’re probably worried there’s a catch. And there is one, to a degree. Application for a USA Fellowship is by nomination only; nominators change year-to-year, and they’re always anonymous. All that USA will share about their nominators is that they're always a “group of arts leaders, critics, scholars, and artists who live in every state throughout the country, from small communities to major metropolises. They work in diverse practices across virtually every artistic discipline.” There is a separate group of panelists who assess the applications, and USA does share the lists of its previous panelists, which is also very diverse in geography, artistic discipline, and profession.
How do you get yourself nominated by an anonymous group of creative writing professionals working across the United States? First, be as inclusive as you can be in your craft and your community. Writing itself might be solitary, but organize and attend workshops, readings and creative writing events as much as you can, and find ways to integrate interdisciplinary art into your writing. The more collaborative you are, and the more broadly you showcase your work around the country, the more likely you are to hit on one of these anonymous nominators.
USA seeks to support quality, creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and diversity—which is certainly reflected in the scope of creative writers USA has recently supported. In particular, the grantees' geographic diversity reflects that it's easier to work anywhere as a creative writer as opposed to as a theater or dance artist, for example. So long as these values put you at the front of the pack, USA seems less concerned about where you are in your career. The range of recent creative writing awardees also reflect this—on the one hand there is the legendary Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx; on the other, there is C.E. Morgan, whose debut novel was published (to great acclaim) in 2009.
A full list of literary grantees since 2006 is on USA’s website.