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North Texas Author Wins Rona Jaffe Writer's Award

by Jerome Weeks 15 Sep 2011 1:31 PM

North Texas author Merritt Tierce has been waiting tables at a steakhouse — the source for her stories in the collection she’s been working on, Love Me Back. The waitress stories have paid off to the tune of $25,000.


Merritt Tierce‘s first published story, “Suck It,” appeared in SMU’s Southwest Review and one of her recent stories will appear in UTDallas’ Reunion. She’s currently at work on a collection, Love Me Back. After earning an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop this spring, she went back to waiting tables in Dallas.

The Rona Jaffe Foundatioon Writer’s Award comes with $25,000 and is given to six women writers each year who demonstrate promise in the early years of their careers.

Tierce lives in Denton with her two daughters. You can read (or listen to Tierce read) her piece, “I’m Too Short for This Ride,” at PANK. She also co-wrote One in 3, a play about abortion, with Gretchen Dyer and Victoria Loe Hicks, which was staged two years ago at Project X.

The full release follows:


Six outstanding emergent women writers will receive grants of $25,000 each at New York City reception. Award-winning short story writer Edith Pearlman will be Guest Speaker

New York City (September 2011) – The Rona Jaffe Foundation will honor its annual Writers’ Awards winners at a private ceremony on September 22nd in New York City. Six emerging women writers have been singled out for excellence by the Foundation and will receive awards of $25,000 each. The 2011 winners are Melanie Drane, Apricot Irving, Fowzia Karimi, Namwali Serpell, Merritt Tierce, and JoAnn Wypijewski. The program – the only national literary awards program of its kind devoted exclusively to women – was created by celebrated novelist Rona Jaffe to identify and support women writers of unusual talent and promise in the early stages of their writing careers. Ms. Jaffe passed away in 2005.

The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards are given to writers of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Since the program began in 1995, the Foundation has awarded more than $1 million to emergent women writers. Past recipients of the Writers’ Awards, such as Eula Biss, Judy Budnitz, Lan Samantha Chang, Kathleen Graber, Aryn Kyle, Dana Levin, ZZ Packer, Julia Slavin, Tracy K. Smith, Mary Szybist, and Julia Whitty have since received wider critical recognition. In addition, several, recent Rona Jaffe winners have had impressive literary debuts: Elif Batuman, Sarah Braunstein, Carin Clevidence, Robin Ekiss, Rivka Galchen, Holly Goddard Jones, Lori Ostlund, Helen Phillips, Melissa Range, Rita Mae Reese, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Jennie Erin Smith.

Biographies of the 2011 Award Winners:

Melanie Drane (Poetry) is working on a new manuscript of poems entitled The Language Orchard, which explores the profound experience of her sister’s severe aphasia after a recent stroke, and their efforts to recover her language. She has also completed a book-length manuscript entitled The City of Blademakers, reflecting her many years living in Japan. Ms. Drane received her B.A. from Princeton, her M.A. from UC, Berkeley, and her M.F.A. from the University of Southern Maine at Stonecoast. Her work has appeared in Indiana Review, New South, The Iowa Review, and The Huffington Post. She has received the UK National Poetry Competition First Prize, as well as a North Carolina Arts Council literary fellowship, and served as writer-in-residence at Interlochen Center for the Arts from 2002-2004. Until recently, she was the director and instructor of writing workshops of Basho’s Cabin. She is now a full-time caregiver. Her Rona Jaffe Award will allow her to rent a writing space and hire a part-time companion to stay with her sister while she works on this new collection. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Apricot Irving’s (Nonfiction) ( work in progress, The Missionary’s Daughter, is about growing up on a missionary compound in Haiti. It is a deeply personal story about her father’s work and devotion to the country and its people and the personal toll it took on his family. It is also the larger story of Haiti and the explorers and reformers that have shaped its history. Ms. Irving plans to use her Writer’s Award for writing space and childcare, as well as to return to Haiti for an extended period to re-immerse herself in the language and culture, “to re-absorb into the bloodstream those elusive details” that she wants to capture in this book. Her work has appeared on This American Life and an excerpt from her memoir will be published in More magazine later this year. She received her B.A. from University of Tennessee-Knoxville and her M.A. in creative nonfiction from Portland State University. She is a freelance writer and founder and director of Boise Voices Oral History Project, a creative neighborhood response to gentrification. She lives with her husband and two sons in Portland, Oregon.

Fowzia Karimi (Fiction) received her B.A. from UC, Santa Barbara, and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Mills College. Originally from Kabul, she fled Afghanistan in 1980 at the age of six. Ms. Karimi is currently working on a novel, Above Us the Milky Way, based on her early childhood in America. She says, “We remained connected to our larger family through memory and story and from a very young age it seemed vitally important to me to take this task on earnestly—witnessing, collecting, and over time stringing memories together into narrative.” Her novel is a lyrical and surreal retelling of these family stories, combining traditional storytelling with elements of fairy tales. Ms. Karimi plans to use her Writer’s Award to devote more time to her writing and to visit her larger family, who now mostly live in Germany and Canada. She hopes to capture through interviews and photographs her family stories before they are lost. “I see my current novel as part of a series of books about my family, my ancestors, about their migrations, about the influence of war on their lives.” She lives in Oakland, California.

Namwali Serpell (Fiction) describes her novel in progress, Breaking, as an “epic set over the course of the last century about three Zambian families—black, white, brown—caught in a cycle of desire and retribution.” She has almost completed her first novel, Furrow, a fusion of a family drama, a grifter noir, and a love story. Ms. Serpell received her B.A. from Yale and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. She is an assistant professor in the English department at the University of California, Berkeley, and will be a visiting fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center this year. Her work has appeared in Callaloo, Bidoun, and The Believer. Her first published story, “Muzungu,” was selected by Alice Sebold for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 2009 and was shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing. Ms. Serpell will use her Rona Jaffe Award next year to take time away from teaching in order to concentrate on her writing. Specifically, she will travel to Zambia, where she was born and lived until her family moved to the U.S. in 1989, to conduct essential research for Breaking. She lives in San Francisco.

Merritt Tierce’s (Fiction) first published story, “Suck It,” appeared in Southwest Review and was selected by ZZ Packer for inclusion in New Stories from the South 2008. She is currently working on a collection of linked stories, Love Me Back, loosely based on her years of waiting tables at a Texas steakhouse. Her nominator writes, “Merritt’s fiction demonstrates a high degree of craftsmanship, and in addition resonates with genuine wisdom and experience. Her stories reflect a full and fierce engagement with her material. Her work contains the real stuff of life, and she is absolutely fearless in the things she’s willing to confront.” She received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in May 2011 and returned to waiting tables in Dallas. Her Rona Jaffe Award will allow her to work fewer hours at the restaurant and give her the “emotional, physical, and creative energy” to complete her book during the next year. Ms. Tierce lives in Denton, Texas, with her two children.

JoAnn Wypijewski (Nonfiction) is a freelance editor and writer. She is working on a nonfiction book titled Valiant to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which explores the general decline of America, its economy and political culture over the past forty years traced through the history of her car. She has spent the past year and a half on the road in her 1963 Plymouth Valiant convertible researching the book. Ms. Wypijewski received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University and was an editor at The Nation for eighteen years. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The L.A. Times, Mother Jones, among others, where she has written on such subjects as Abu Ghraib, Matthew Shepard, and sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. She currently writes the “Carnal Knowledge” column on sex, politics and culture for The Nation. Her awards include a 2010 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, a 2006 Lannan Writing Fellowship, and a GLADD Media Award. She will use her Rona Jaffe Award to work full-time on her book next year. She lives in New York City.

The six women will gather at the September 22nd Writers’ Awards ceremony in Manhattan. Award-winning writer Edith Pearlman ( will speak at the celebration. Ms. Pearlman has published four collections of short fiction, including her first collection, Vaquita (1996), which won the Drue Heinz Prize for Literature; How to Fall (2005), which received the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction; and most recently, Binocular Vision: New and Selected Short Stories published by Lookout Books in 2011. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Collection, New Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize Collection. She will receive the 2011 PEN/Malamud Award later this year. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The evening provides the Foundation with an ideal opportunity to introduce its honorees to friends and colleagues in the publishing industry. Some recipients have been introduced to their future agents and editors through the awards. “This is an extraordinary group of women writers. Their work is inventive, challenging, and deeply personal. Many are transforming their personal stories into wholly imagined worlds of their own creation. Several are writing about their homelands outside of the U.S.,” says Beth McCabe, Director of the program. “Most of our award winners are working to complete their first books and for many this will be the first opportunity in their careers to free themselves temporarily from financial worries to focus on their writing for an extended period. Now celebrating our seventeenth year, we are seeing the impact of Rona Jaffe’s vision and generosity. Through her Foundation we have been able to encourage over 100 women to pursue their literary ambitions by offering encouragement and financial support at a critical time. This is what Rona had always hoped to achieve with her program and it’s wonderful to see the impact it has had on these writers’ lives.”

ABOUT THE AWARDS PROGRAM: The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program identifies emergent women writers of exceptional promise. The Foundation recognizes that women writers make special contributions to our culture and, through the Writers’ Awards program, tries to address the difficulties that some of the most talented among them have in finding time to write and gaining recognition. Women who write fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry are considered for the program’s grants of $25,000. Awards are given to those in the early stages of their writing careers whose published or unpublished work reveals accomplishment and demonstrates a commitment to writing. Nominations of candidates are solicited from writers, editors, critics, and other literary professionals who are likely to encounter women writers of unusual talent. (Direct applications and unsolicited nominations are not accepted by the Foundation.) A selection committee is appointed each year to recommend awards from among the nominees. The nominators and selectors serve anonymously. Beth McCabe directs the Writers’ Awards program. To learn more, visit

ABOUT RONA JAFFE: Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) established The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program in 1995. It is the only national literary awards program of its kind dedicated to supporting women writers exclusively. Since the program began, the Foundation has awarded grants to over 100 women. Ms. Jaffe was the author of sixteen books, including Class Reunion, Family SecretsThe Road Taken, and The Room-Mating Season (2003). Her 1958 best-selling first novel, The Best of Everything, was reissued by Penguin in 2005.