2020 Artist Fellowship Recipients

Meet the North Carolinas Arts Council's Artist Fellowship Recipients

Raleigh, N.C. (October 21, 2019) — Eighteen artists across North Carolina have received fellowship awards from the N.C. Arts Council in the literary categories of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting and playwriting and in the musical categories of composition and songwriting.

Recipients were selected by panels comprised of artists and arts professionals with discipline-specific expertise and experience. The recognition of these artists with the fellowship is one of the many ways the N.C. Arts Council supports diverse and innovative artists living and working in our state.

The Artist Fellowship Program operates on a two-year rotating cycle by discipline. Choreographers, visual, craft, and film and video artists can apply until Friday, Nov. 1.

The North Carolina Arts Council supports diverse and innovative artists with fellowships, professional development and more to enhance the state’s brand and drive economic impact.

Below is an alphabetical listing of the fellowship recipients.

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Pam Baggett

Much of Pam Baggett's recent work focuses on her experience as a caregiver during her mother’s last decade as she became increasingly disabled by Alzheimer’s disease. Her poems examine the beautiful and challenging relationship between mother and daughter as their roles begin to blur because of the ever-declining capacity of the parent.

She writes about love and laughter as well as the grief, frustration, and powerlessness caregivers endure. In her poem Motherload, she captures the vertigo of identity that family members often experience: “Unmoored, untethered, unmothered, / you call yourself a daughter, but she's forgotten/the child you were at nine or five or two...”

Baggett is now building a body of poems about nature, primarily centered on the beautiful land she lives on in Orange County. She has won two Artist Project grants from the Orange County Arts Commission and was the recipient in 2017 of an Emerging Artist Grant from the Durham Arts Council. She has been active in the local literary community, organizing and participating in readings and workshops at libraries, bookstores, and events hosted by community groups. Her work has been included in numerous anthologies and journals and her book, Wild Horses, was a runner-up for the Cathy Smith Bowers Chapbook Contest in 2018.

Sarah Bryan

Sarah Bryan’s essays and fiction are drawn from a lifelong dedication to the narrative experience of Southerners. “I write about the people I come to know in my work as a folklorist in the Carolinas; the experiences of my family elders from the Carolinas and Cuba; and traditional music and musicians of the South,” she says.

Bryan has dug deep into these narratives through her work as Executive Director of the North Carolina Folklife Institute, Executive Director of the Old-Time Music Group, and editor of its publication, The Old-Time Herald. She coauthored African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina (UNC Press, 2013), a project of the N.C. Arts Council in collaboration with the N.C. Folklife Institute working with numerous musicians in the region to create a visitor’s guide to the heritage of African American music in Eastern North Carolina.

Also, a fluent Spanish speaker and writer, she carried out field research and interviews to document Charlotte-area immigrants’ religious, culinary, sports, and material culture for the Levine Museum of the New South’s 2009 exhibition, Changing Places: From Black and White to Technicolor.

Bryan holds an M.A. in Folklore from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her articles, essays, and stories have been published in the Oxford American, Potomac Review, and New Haven Review, among many others.  In 2016, she was awarded the Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress and the following year she earned a Pushcart Prize Special Mention for her essay in The Southern Review, "Life and Death of the Father of Modern Miniature Golf." http://sarah-bryan.com

Mylène Dressler

“I started writing to tell the stories that haunted me, unspoken histories from my family and my cultures,” says Mylène Dressler. “I am Eurasian, Dutch-Indonesian, descended from both colonizers and the colonized, and it seemed to me that novels were a way to bring into the light what has been overlooked or even actively looked away from, in myself and in the larger world.”

Recently, the metaphor of “haunting” has moved to the foreground in Dressler’s work. “In my newest books I’ve been moved to reinvent the ghost story genre,” she says, “taking the hallmarks of gothic literature—dark, labyrinthine spaces, unsettling apparitions, buried knowledge—and reimagining them to tell contemporary stories about otherness and the erasure of identity and experience, especially among characters rendered invisible for reasons of class, gender, race or ethnicity.”

Dressler’s books include I See You So Close (Skyhorse, forthcoming 2020), The Last to See Me Skyhorse, 2017), winner of the Book Pipeline Grand Prize and Audiofile Award for Fiction, and The Floodmakers (Penguin Putnam, 2004). She teaches at Guilford College in Greensboro as an associate professor in the department of English and Creative Writing.

“My drive is to write stories that move the heart, excite the senses, and ask the reader to tremble with feeling, with the very action of turning the page,” Dressler says. “Art, in my experience, helps you to feel as a way to help you to think—especially when anyone or anything is encouraging you not to feel, not to look in front of you and see what is begging to be seen.” http://mdressler.com/wp/

Marianne Jay Erhardt

Marianne Jay Erhardt’s writing often centers on the awakening of told, seemingly fixed stories. “These might be names, histories, fairy tales, or formulas,” she says. Her current project is a collection of lyrical essays exploring personal and social mythologies of motherhood in which she writes letters to mothers in works of fiction.

Her own development mirrors some of the themes she explores in her writing, including a constant re-imagining of who she is and who she can be. “One story that I’m still working to upend is the story of who I am as writer,” she says. It is one she continually tries to rewrite in new forms.

Erhardt is an assistant teaching professor and teaches writing at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem and previously taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she earned an M.F.A. Her résumé includes stories in Conjunctions and Phoebe, and most recently, "You Call That Wild" in Oxford American magazine (2019). http://writingprogram.wfu.edu/people/marianne-erhardt

Lynden Harris

“I have never put much attention on ‘my career,’ whether as a playwright, columnist, essayist, or educator, aside from the fundamental work of connecting communities across difference,” says Lynden Harris. She is the founder of Hidden Voices, an inclusive, participatory, and co-creative collective committed to building a just, compassionate, and sustainable world. Since 2001, she has collaborated with underrepresented communities to create award-winning works that combine narrative, performance, mapping, music, digital media, and interactive exhibits.

Harris’s most recent work includes Serving Life: ReVisioning Justice, a multi-disciplinary project sharing stories from people awaiting execution in American prisons. The project includes two plays: Serving Life (created and performed on death row) and Count: Stories from America’s Death Row (which premiered at PlayMakers Repertory Company); two exhibits: Serving Life (co-created with men on death row) and Standing on Love (portraits and reflections of family members); and a cycle of monologues titled “Right Here, Right Now,” which will be gathered in a forthcoming book (2020). Her play, To Buy the Sun, about the life of activist Pauli Murray toured the East coast in 2018.

In addition to her work with Hidden Voices, Harris is a Duke University faculty member in Theater Studies, and a founding member of Duke Transformative Prison Practices. She also is a founding cultural agent for the U.S. Dept. of Arts and Culture. Currently, she is working on A Good Boy, a music theater piece sharing stories from family members of those living on death row. www.hiddenvoices.org

Jennie Malboeuf

“Ultimately, the objective of my writing is to explore the relationships between the body (animal) and the mind (God),” says Jennie Malboeuf. Her work has traced the issues of authority, control, and violence and how these themes intersect with gender, sex, and memory. 

Born and raised in Kentucky, she received an M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and currently serves as a visiting assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Guilford College. Her work has been represented in the Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, and The Southern Review, among many others, and her first collection, God had a body: Poems (Indiana University Press, 2020), was selected for the Blue Light Books Prize. She received a Pushcart Prize Special Mention for her poem, “Hubris” (first published in New South) in 2019 and has been named twice to the Best New Poets list, a series featuring emerging writers published by the University of Virginia Press. https://jenniemalboeuf.com/

Paula Martinac smiling at the camera and wearing a light blue scarf and blue earrings

Paula Martinac’s childhood passion for writing and history grew into novels, plays, screenplays, and nonfiction books set in the historical and physical past, through which she explores the powerful connections that echo in our lives to the present day.

Martinac channels her creative energies into writing LGBTQ-themed historical fiction, animating the history of this often-overlooked minority. The significant engagement of LGBTQ Southerners in the Civil Rights Movement is one of the subjects she addresses in her novels.

“Many of the challenges LGBTQ people faced in the past—job discrimination, lack of social acceptance and civil rights—still resonate today,” she says. “Yet mainstream history has mostly erased the impact LGBTQ Americans have had on social justice, political, and cultural movements in this country. As a rule, our history isn’t taught in schools or heralded by families of origin because it’s been attached to shame, and even sin.”

Martinac holds an M.A. from The College of William and Mary and is a lecturer at UNC-Charlotte’s English Department. She received a 2019 Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts & Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County and her novel-in-stories, The Ada Decades (Bywater Books, 2017), was a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. She has published both fiction and nonfiction and had several of her plays produced or presented as readings. Her most recent book is Clio Rising (Bywater Books, 2019). https://paulamartinac.com


Emilia Phillips headshot

“My writing, both poetry, and nonfiction is concerned with the ways in which our bodies embody violence,” says Emilia Phillips, “whether it’s physical and externalized (as is the case with bruises and scars) or emotional and internalized (homophobia, misogyny, etc.).” Her two lyric nonfiction projects, Wound Revisions: Lyric Memoirs and Rewilding: On Queerness, Family, and Body, approach their topics - which include reconstructive surgery, gun violence, queer families, and troublesome namesakes - with the goal of creating an experience for the reader that feels nearly physical, even as they also engage logic and emotion. 

Phillips holds an M.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University and is assistant professor of Creative Writing at UNC-Greensboro. Her essays and poetry have been included in many journals and magazines and she has published several collections and chapbooks of poems.  In 2019, she received a Pushcart Prize for her poem “Pathetic Fallacy,” and her lyric nonfiction piece, “Excisions,” was awarded a 2015 Storyquarterly Nonfiction Prize. https://emiliaphillips.com/

Susan Southard

“As an artist, I am drawn to the lives of people otherwise hidden from public view, whose stories have been denied, distorted, or silenced,” says Susan Southard.

Her first book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War (Viking, 2015), received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in Nonfiction and the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, and was also named a best book of the year by The Washington Post, The Economist, Kirkus Reviews, and the American Library Association.  Her next project continues with the hidden world theme by exploring her own story of following her mentally ill mother into a fear-based cult that controlled her life for more than a decade.

Southard teaches workshops and graduate-level nonfiction seminars and has directed creative writing programs for incarcerated youth and at a federal prison for women. Before moving to North Carolina, she was the founder and artistic director of the Phoenix-based Essential Theatre, a professional company serving marginalized communities across the Southwest. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. www.susansouthard.com

D. M. Spratley

“I am a third-generation poet,” says D.M. Spratley. “My father, Marvin Spratley, and my grandmother, Ella Spratley, wrote poems, and used their writing to contribute to their families and communities.”

“One of my favorite early memories is of writing a poem so that I could share that way of seeing the world with my father,” she adds, but “before I sound too precocious, it was rhyming couplets about McDonald’s.”

Spratley currently serves as director of Programs and Strategy for Village of Wisdom in Durham, N.C., a community-based movement of Black parents protecting Black genius. She counts writers, artists, comedians, scholars, dancers, and activists as her major influences. “I find there is much for me to learn from those in other fields who are working to change how we think and see the world,” she said. Among the poets she finds herself turning and returning to include Tracy K. Smith, her thesis advisor at Princeton, former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, Whiting Award winner Jericho Brown, and others.

Spratley received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Hollins University. Her work has been published in 32 Poems, Shenandoah, POETRY, and Lambda Literary Poetry Spotlight, among other magazines and journals. www.dmspratley.com

Jonathan Strong wearing a hat and smiling

“Story ideas can strike like lightning,” says Jonathan Strong. “I never know where or when they will hit. When they do, I allow the images to run their course, watching them like a motion picture in my mind.” He is the inaugural recipient of an award given in memory of Elliott Bowles.

“These narrative incarnations are mysterious and often come in small puzzle-like pieces, usually out of order,” Strong continues. “But I've always loved mysteries, so this incites me to ‘investigate’ where these paths may take me, until the story eventually fleshes itself out.”

His current project is a ghost story that ties history to contemporary racial anxieties. “I especially love stories where characters from different backgrounds and perspectives are thrown together in unusual circumstances and become transformed and enlightened in the process,” he said. “I believe in the inherent worth of all people and that we need each other to not only survive the treacherous aspects of life but to have more vibrant and fulfilling lives.”

Strong is the owner and executive producer of Biographe, a Charlotte production company specializing in video biographies that capture one’s life story and legacy. He directed and edited Messiah, an eight-part documentary series for Amazon Video in 2019, as well as Inspections, a short that was a finalist at the Charlotte’s 48 Hour Film Festival in 2017. He received his M.A. in Communications from Regent University. www.strongmanproductions.com

Derrick J. Hines

“Simply put, I love music,” says Derrick J. Hines. “I love listening to, playing, writing, and performing music of all kinds.”

Hines says that music is very personal to him, but that lyric writing is influenced mostly by the external world. “I tend to lean toward storytelling and/or under-the-table social- political commentary when writing lyrics,” he says. “I'm sure parts of me seep into my lyrics, but I assure you it is not intentional. I enjoy exploring subject matter from different perspectives, whether through fictional characters or real people—mainly, combinations of people.”

He has been influenced by a wide range of musicians, from Prince to Radiohead, Tchaikovsky to Thelonius Monk, and Manu Delago to Meshell N'Degeocello. Nonetheless, he says, “My main influences are usually the people I'm collaborating with at the time.” Perhaps his most important influence, however, was his uncle who was his musical mentor and remains an inspiration in his life.

Hines performed as a rapper and backing vocalist with Dr. Meaker at the 2007 Glastonbury Music Festival, UK.  More recently, he has also played on recordings with the Dinner Rabbits and Bless These Sounds Under the City, and Yes Creator! and performed at the BOOM! Festival and the Charlotte Dance Fest.

Brian Horton headshot

“I compose music influenced by the jazz idiom that combines harmonically complex ideas with lyrical and memorable melodies,” says Durham resident Brian Horton. “My treatment of these musical elements is further shaped by the gospel and popular music I heard while growing up in North Carolina.”

Horton’s work has supported an array of artists such as Dom Flemons, Delfeayo Marsalis, Snoop Dogg, Memphis Bleek and producer Just Blaze, and he recently completed a commission from the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music to arrange jazz big band music from the New Orleans Silverbook. His trios and quartets have toured through several European and Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan under the auspices of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad tours.

“Being an active, performing musician who works across genres, I understand working from both sides of the bandstand, and write music that is challenging yet accessible to the player and enjoyable for the audience,” Horton says. “At the foundation of my work, beyond the scope of contemporary orchestration is something familiar, naturally southern and inherently rooted in the blues.”

His music has been featured in independent documentaries for Columbia and Stanford Universities, ESPN, Foot Locker, the Durham Symphony, author Adam Mansbach (Stand For Nothing, Fall For Anything), and choreographer Amy Chavasse (Low Winter Light), among others. Horton holds a D.M.A. in Jazz Studies and Composition from the University of North Texas, Denton. He serves as an assistant professor in the Jazz Studies Program, North Carolina Central University in Durham. https://www.brianhorton.com/

Steven Haines

“My discipline as a musician encompasses many passions,” says Steve Haines, “including my work as a double bassist, composer, arranger, teacher, and most important of all, student.”

“I love introducing students to artists who they might not have heard of,” Haines says. “At the same time, I’m constantly learning about new musicians and recordings from them.” Haines plays often with the Chad Eby Quartet in North Carolina, works in the trio Trifecta with pianist Ariel Pocock and trumpeter Thomas Heflin, and has recently performed with jazz guitarist Peter Bernstein and saxophonist Ralph Bowen.

He earned his M.M. in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, Denton, later becoming director of the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program UNC-Greensboro, where he still teaches in the Music Department. He won the N.C. Arts Council Fellowship in musical composition once before in 2008. He was also named Outstanding Teacher of the Year for the UNCG School of Music in 2006, received a semi-finalist ranking for the 2010 Jazz Knights Commission in New York, and won the 2019 UNCG Gladys Strewn Bullard Award for leadership and service. His fourth and latest CD as a leader is Steve Haines and the Third Floor Orchestra, which was released by Justin Time Records in 2019. https://www.stevehaines.com

Andrew Finn Magill

“Being a composer to me is like being an inventor,” says Andrew Finn Magill. “You experiment, try out ideas, throw out ideas, tinker, adapt, rewrite and then repeat all of the above in the hope that you'll come up with that one idea that makes you go ‘aha!’”

“I absolutely love this process and it's why I compose,” he says. “Each time a creative light bulb goes off it inspires me to look for the next light bulb, and then the next, and then the next…” Magill credits his study of many folk genres—Bluegrass, Appalachian, traditional Irish, jazz, Brazilian choro, and others—with shaping his musical instincts.

“It's these genres and the players within them that drive me to make my work,” he says. “I'm so excited by what other musicians are able to say with just the 12 notes in Western music, 12 notes with somehow infinite possibility. I suppose this excitement must be channeled somewhere, and the most satisfying way I've found to do that is composition.”

Magill’s albums include Canta, Violino! (Ropeadope Records, 2018), and the self-released Brazilian Strings Trio (2018), Roots (2016) and Branches (2016). He teaches regularly at festivals and camps and  has performed at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, UK (2018), Walt Disney World Epcot Park, Orlando, FL (2015), Olympia Hall, Paris (2011 and 2012), and the Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi (2010). https://www.andrewfinnmagill.com/

Tift Merritt

“In my nearly 20 years as a recording artist, I have tried to make my own brand of sonic short stories, rooted in plain-spoken language and a sense of place,” says Raleigh-born and Grammy-nominated musician Tift Merritt.

“I give voice to the granular experience of overlooked humanity in everyday life,” she says. “I believe in process over the spotlight, that making work is a hopeful gesture for deep community connection, that different mediums have more in common spiritually than their differences in material practice. My devotion to my own instincts, to cultivating a unique point of view, has not always made my path easy, but it has made it worthwhile.”

Merritt wanted to be a writer until her father taught her guitar chords and introduced her to Percy Sledge songs. Her catalog now includes eight studio albums. She received a Grammy nomination for Country Album of the Year in 2005 for Tambourine (Lost Highway, Universal Recordings, 2004). She has performed with the NY Philharmonic and toured with bands including Iron & Wine, Nick Lowe, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Gregg Allman. Her television appearances include Austin City Limits and the Grand Ole Opry. The New Yorker calls Merritt “the bearer of a proud tradition of the distaff country soul that reaches back to artists like Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry.”

Having completed her Honors Thesis in Creative Writing in Fiction at UNC-Chapel Hill with legendary professor Doris Betts, Merritt continues to write for the page as well as the stage. While most at ease at the piano or with a guitar in her lap, she also is a regular contributor to Oxford American magazine and has even designed a line of textiles for Bernhardt Design, based on her vintage ribbon collection. http://www.tiftmerritt.com/home

Christy Smith

The slow rhythms of the countryside and the feel of the church pew are never too far below the surface of Christy Smith’s songs. She is a native North Carolinian, and the granddaughter of cotton and tobacco farmers.

Smith explores a shifting sense of identity and how our relationships define us. As a new mom, she will soon release new songs that reveal motherhood to be both a joyous homecoming and an agonizing passage, as she sings about her year-long, transformational battle with her own mental illness after childbirth.

Her albums include The Darkness Comes (The Tender Fruit, 2014), Flotsam & Krill (The Tender Fruit, 2010), and Nola (Nola, 2006), along with collaborations with Bon Iver, Megafun, Bombadil and Gross Ghost.

Smith is a familiar face at local music festivals, including Hopscotch, Duke's Music in the Gardens, and the Festival for the Eno. She has collaborated with many talented musicians, including Phil Cook, Heather McEntire, Libby Rodenbough, and others. She holds an M.A. in English Literature from North Carolina State University and has taught songwriting workshops for Girls Rock NC, the Central Park School for Children, and others. https://thetenderfruit.bandcamp.com/music

John Westmoreland

John Westmoreland has developed his own style and sound through the study of a broad range of musical genres from across the world. He grew up playing blues, rock, and folk music and went on to study jazz and classical composition at Berklee College of Music. Over the past decade, he has traveled to Senegal, Peru, Colombia, Finland, and Ukraine to learn from each of their cultures, strongly influencing his guitar playing and songwriting.

In April 2019 Westmoreland released a debut album of original songs, Cast Fire, which interweaves elements from diverse musical traditions, including American songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits. His next project highlights the unpublished poetry of T-Bone Slim, a Finnish-American songwriter, poet, and Industrial Workers of the World labor columnist once known as “the laureate of the logging camps,” who has remained largely unstudied.

Westmoreland’s greatest discovery in this project was personal. “While doing research into my ancestry, I stumbled upon the fact that ‘Uncle Matt,’ as he’s been known in my family, was the iconic hobo, T-Bone Slim,” he says. “My mother had even been holding onto dozens of his original unpublished writings. My project will be to compose and record music accompanying T-Bone’s songs and poems.”

Westmoreland was a 2014 recipient of an Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant from the Durham Arts Council. He has played on recordings for artists Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba, Jim Roberts, and Mike Flowers, and performed lead vocals and guitar on his own album Cast Fire. He also wrote and recorded original music for the score of the award-winning 2017 documentary, Staring Down Fate, produced by WildSides, a nonprofit that explores human/animal interactions with the goal of greater awareness and understanding. https://www.johnwestmorelandmusic.com/

For more information about how the N.C. Arts Council supports artists

About the North Carolina Arts Council

The North Carolina Arts Council builds on our state’s long-standing love of the arts, leading the way to a more vibrant future. The Arts Council is an economic catalyst, fueling a thriving nonprofit creative sector that generates $2.12 billion in annual direct economic activity. The Arts Council also sustains diverse arts expression and traditions while investing in innovative approaches to art-making. The North Carolina Arts Council has proven to be a champion for youth by cultivating tomorrow’s creative citizens through arts education. NCArts.org.