Monica McFawn, assistant professor in the English department, has been awarded a federal grant for $25,000 to write her next book, which will feature people who live on boats.
Author of “Bright Shards of Someplace Else,” McFawn received the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant to write her fiction novel on people known as cruisers. Of over 1,000 national applicants, 37 winners were chosen.
“It’s a big vote of confidence,” McFawn said. “It’s a little daunting because I don’t know that I have that confidence in my work, but it certainly feels good just knowing people care about your work and they want you to do well.”
The grant was only open to people who had already published a book, and it required a proposal of the research necessary for the upcoming book, as well as a rough idea of a plotline. McFawn’s previous book was published when she won the Flannery O’Conner award, which required a pre-written manuscript.
“I think they’re worth the gamble if you know they’re respectable,” McFawn said. “To me, it’s a little investment in my writing. Yeah, a majority of the time it doesn’t work out, but when it has worked out for me, especially with the O’Conner award, it completely changed my career in an instant.”
McFawn plans to sail as research for her book, and over winter break she traveled to Florida. Trips to the Florida Keys, the Virgin Islands or even New Zealand are possibilities for sailing trips in the near future, and she already has plans to sail in the U.P.—all of which will take place around her teaching schedule for NMU.
McFawn’s working plot of the upcoming book focuses on the paradox between people who live on their boats to feel free from land and society, but in the process, essentially trap themselves in a small space with other people, usually romantic partners. She’s also interested in exploring how a long-term relationship functions in this setting.
“That just seems really strange to me,” McFawn said. “I feel like I’d lose my mind, and I wonder what it’s like.”
Through research, McFawn has found that many cruisers tend to be older people, who have become tired or disenchanted with the life they were leading before.
“People who leave their lives to go sailing tend to be really idealistic because they believe that there’s something out there that is better than life here, and I wonder about that, too. I wonder if they find what they’re looking for,” McFawn said.
Robin McCarthy, third year MFA candidate in fiction, lived on her boat before coming to graduate school. Her partner is currently sailing the Eastern seaboard.
“I think that long-distance sailing is a wildly romantic idea, and it is a wildly romantic experience,” McCarthy said. “There are incredible highs and incredible lows, and you can’t do it unless something in you needs both of those.”
McCarthy, graduate assistant for Passages North, took one of McFawn’s classes and also attended McFawn’s guest reading in fall 2014 when McFawn was named a Michigan Notable Book author for her first book.
She views McFawn as a very creative professor who pushes students to reach beyond their limits in their writing.
“I’m happy for her. I think it’s a really great experience. I’m excited to see the book that comes out of it,” McCarthy said. “I’m just totally jazzed she’s going through with it.”