I received the news about the fellowship from the NEA at a time when I’d been leading the vagabond writing teacher lifestyle for a few years, involving the usual changes in address and multiple W-2 forms. My relationship with my writing then was, of necessity, on-again, off-again, and I was feeling more than a little frustrated. The NEA allowed me to take a year off from work to concentrate on revising one novel, starting another, and writing a lot of essays and poems. The fellowship was also a very welcome affirmation that someone out there (or a dozen someones, in this case) saw value in what I’m doing, and for that I’m especially grateful.
From the novel Quinnehtukqut
The sky was sudden. A strip of blue peeping out where the clouds had begun to tatter some hand reaching down to pull them back to cast light on this patch of hills and woods. Or the narrow view of low rainclouds through branches so dense a jay could not fly through. That tired sun lighting the boles of spruce the dead limbs still clutched to before it passed below. A man could never see his shadow before him.
I'd seen Jimmy since the first time he came to town. Must've been only ten or so but I recall him a longlegged fellow with scanty beard, not too old himself. I met him up the lodge one day while I was running an errand for my mother, and he called out and said did they breed all the young girls up here this pretty, if so he thought he might stay awhile. I looked back at him for a moment and then ran on away. There were men around the lodge all the time and mother had told me never to speak to them. I didn't hear him speak to me but once again for four years, and that time he was overheard and walked off right quick. But that voice played itself out in my mind every so often, a faint sound like the wind in bare branches. Then one day, not long before sugaring season, he found me alone again and told me he was off but would be back for me shortly and to sit tight in the meantime. True to his word he was gone the next morning. Vern Amey came up to the lodge with a load of firewood and said Jimmy'd left the widow Godfrey's house on foot that morning, and good riddance.
I started planning but I didn't know what for. I walked in the dooryard after supper and if my mother knew I'd some foolish ideas in my head she never spoke of it.
Each of us is a hundred men known and secret even to each other as a crowd in a tavern vying for attention the old man and the fresh boy and yes they moved inside me at times. Sitting on a rock in thick woods. All answering to the same name though it meant differently. If I could cut a man open like cleaning a fish. The things we say. Jimmy I shouted till the trees understood.