Garrard Conley |Assistant Professor of Creative Writing
Garrard Conley (Ukraine 2007-10) has been awarded a prestigious MacDowell Fellowship that he will engage in during two weeks in late September 2023. Adding his name to a list that includes one of his literary heroes, James Baldwin, Conley’s name can now be found among illustrious artists such as Willa Cather, Leonard Bernstein, and Nell Painter, all of whom are past recipients. Conley expressed his shock and gratitude at becoming a MacDowell Fellowship recipient saying, “I was so thrilled that I almost didn’t even have a reaction. I didn’t know what to do.” He started applying for this fellowship when he was 21 and had been applying every eligible year since “thinking, there’s no way I’ll ever get in, but I’m just going to do it.”
The MacDowell Fellowship was established in 1907 by Marian and Edward MacDowell and was initially funded by business titans and politicians such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Grover Cleveland. Although Edward MacDowell died in 1908, his wife Marian grew what was then called the “MacDowell Colony” into a group of 32 studios in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Through Marian MacDowell’s cross-country lectures and fund-raising activities, the Fellowship continued to grow, even after her death in 1956. According to their website, MacDowell’s mission is to, “…nurture the arts by offering talented individuals an inspiring residential environment in which to produce enduring works of the creative imagination.” The Fellowship supports approximately 300 artists annually and, to date, has nurtured more than 8,600 artists across creative disciplines.
Already a successful author, Conley appreciates the magnitude of this fellowship and is somewhat amazed at the company in which he finds himself. During the orientation with other artists in his cohort, Conley said that being among his heroes such as a well-known documentary food writer, he was absolutely “starstruck because I love her,” and in awe of being in the company of equally well-known artists including, “an Academy Award-winning Romanian director, you know, really cool people!” He also made note of how this impacts his professional career, acknowledging that he is “a fellow in a community that allows you to network with extraordinary people…” He added that professionally, “I’ve just always known what MacDowell would do on my CV. It is now a label that you have as an artist that opens up more doors. If you have a bio that has MacDowell in it, they are more like, ‘Oh, well, I’ve got to read this.’ It is really wonderful to even be in the same sentence as my heroes and I get to be on this list now.”
With this opportunity, Conley described the pressure that comes with it because now his work will be read more carefully and with higher expectations. He admitted, once the shock wore off from learning he had been awarded the Fellowship, to feeling nervous saying, “immediately I was like, Oh! What am I going to write? I need to write something great!”
Because a MacDowell Fellowship is most often given to artists who are past the early part of their career and have demonstrated some success and a commitment to their craft, there is a sense of creative camaraderie and mutual respect that facilitates the creative process while in residence. “There is a little bit of, we can make friends more easily because we are all in the same sort of place in our careers,” he added.
Conley gives credit to English Department chair, John Havard, who has made the process much easier through his support and willingness to be flexible with Conley’s teaching schedule and ensuring that his classes are covered during the two weeks he will be in New Hampshire on this Fellowship. “I couldn’t have asked for a better department chair. He’s amazing,” said Conley. “I was so nervous because I’m still junior faculty, but he was clear that we would figure it out when he saw that it was a MacDowell Fellowship.”
Garrard Conley, author of Boy Erased, a memoir that was made into a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, has his second book scheduled for release in spring 2024 and is currently working on his third novel. Conley earned his MFA from Brooklyn College where he was a Truman Capote Fellow specializing in fiction, and his MA in English from Auburn University. He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and Elizabeth Kostova Foundation Writers’ Conferences and has taught writing classes for Catapult, Sackett Street Writers Workshop, and the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown. His experience is varied and includes working as the memoir instructor for GrubStreet’s 2017-18 Memoir Incubator program.
He also served in Ukraine as an ESL instructor and HIV/AIDS educator through the Peace Corps volunteer program. He has been teaching at Kennesaw State University for the past year.
His work has been published in numerous well known and respected publications including The New York Times, The Oxford American, TIME, VICE, CNN, BuzzFeed Them, Virginia Quarterly Review, Joyland Magazine, The Florida Review, and The Huffington Post, among other places. He is Director of the Georgia Writers Association, a member of the PEN/America Foundation and serves on the board of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.