About the NEA

Bobbie Ann Mason: NEA Literature Fellow

mason1.jpg

Cover for the book In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason. The cover illustration takes up the whole area. In the lower half it shows a child in a hunting outfit and carrying a gun. In the upper right hand corner the leg and shoe of a person, presumably walking a

Photo courtesy of Viking Penguin

1983

 

The following is an excerpt of author Bobbie Ann Mason's account of the effects of her 1983 NEA Literature Fellowship in the 1993 NEA publication Generation of Fellows. "I used my NEA fellowship to write my novel, In Country, which was published by Harper & Row in 1985. When I began writing my novel, I found my energy was not focused on the work at hand because of the disparate nature and erratic scheduling of the activities required to earn a living. Therefore, the NEA grant came at an opportune time to let me pull back and turn my attention entirely to the novel.

"I wanted to write something that would be rich and lasting, but I never expected it to have such popular appeal and tangible social effect. Yet this novel was a surprising commercial success, and it has affected the lives of many people. In Country is about a high school girl's quest for knowledge about her father, who died in Vietnam just before she was born. Because of the moment in our history, the subject struck a chord in many readers - especially high school and college students, and Vietnam veterans and their families. However, its appeal has not been limited to readers who would specifically identify with the story. In the 1980s, Vietnam emerged in our culture as a legitimate and compelling topic for discussion, rather than something to be hidden in shame. I am proud to say that my novel became part of that national discussion. In Country was also made into a film, which opened the story up to a broader audience.

"The NEA grant helped me write the novel, which I did for my own artistic reasons, and I am grateful for the time it allowed. I report these unexpected benefits that In Country brought to the community - from the classroom to the veterans' group to the economy and morale of my own hometown – because I think they are significant in reminding people that what may look like self-indulgence in its beginnings can turn out to have long-reaching, positive effects on the culture."

The NEA has produced a new publication, NEA Literature Fellowships: 40 Years of Supporting American Writers, celebrating the agency's longest individual grant program. The publication includes a brief history of the program, a list of all the writers and translators who have won the award, sidebars highlighting some of the NEA Literature Fellows, and a section on NEA Literature Fellows who have received other national awards and honors. The publication will be available to order or download in our PUBLICATIONS section March 9th.