Each year Delaware Division of the Arts awards Individual Artist Fellowship grants to deserving applicants. The Masters ($10,000) category is offered to artists who have received an Established Professional Fellowship in the same discipline more than seven years prior.
In the following article Billie Travalini discusses what receiving the Masters Fellowship means to her, how she plans to use the grant, and the causes that she advocates in her writing.
With various projects in various stages of completion, the fellowship could not have come at a better time. I plan to use the award of $10,000 to teach less and write more. This includes finishing my short story collection, Rush Limbaugh and the French Apple Pie and Rules to Survive Childhood, a sequel to my memoir, Blood Sisters, as well as visit my sister in Oregon to do research for a novella in flash fiction.
For all this, I want to thank the Delaware Division of the Arts, especially Paul Weagraff, Director, and Roxanne Stanulis, Program Officer for Artist Programs and Services for providing the tools and opportunities that I need and every writer needs to grow as artists and as sole proprietors.
As a sole proprietor, I see writing no differently than I see being a lawyer or a plumber: all three provide a service. And, all require getting out in the community, listening to what all kinds of people have to say, and then putting yourself in their shoes to make sense of it all. I have been a listener for as long as I can remember. As a foster child, I learned early on that people do and say the most bizarre and interesting things. I got good at watching raised eyebrows and tapping feet fill in where words leave off. In my opinion, having a hardscrabble childhood is the best training any wannabe writer, like myself, could have. Over time, I even came to see that being underestimated is a blessing, since it let me know more about others than they knew and, wanted to know, about me. When a social worker at Governor Bacon said my IQ was around 94, and smiled when he said it, I reasoned he meant well, and then came the hard part: feeling sorry for him.
For half a century, I have advocated for at-risk youth and the mentally ill. Some of the best holiday dinners I ever had were at Bennett House, a group home for the mentally ill. There, men who had nothing, taught me what being humble and happy looks like. As a writer, I am always eager to hear a good story. Last week I was about to walk in Wawa and a black man finishing his cigarette, said, “Do you know who you look like?” I paused. I could tell by the look in his eyes, he had more to say, so I said the first thing that came to my mind. ”I suppose I look like a lot of white women because I get asked that question a lot.”
He dropped his cigarette and killed it. We were both smiling. “You look exactly like the actress who was on Bewitched. They don’t make good shows like that anymore.” I paused again. “Elizabeth Montgomery,” I said. His eyes brightened. “That’s her. Good show. Today, every comedy on TV wants to preach to you about some problem, or the other. All the good comedies are gone.”
We talked about 10 minutes and when we were done talking, the man said, “Thank you for listening,” and I smiled knowing that talking to him would be the best part of my day.
For me the fellowship is about giving voice to those who have been left out of the conversation, including the thousands of unwanted kids like me, who lived in Governor Bacon from 1948 to 1984. The site, originally an army base, is now being redeveloped as Fort DuPont, with upscale housing, a luxury hotel and convention center, modern marina, and more. I am on the Historic Preservation Committee. A few cottages where children once lived, and before them, army officers lived, were restored to their original condition as officers’ quarters.
Most of the children who lived at Governor Bacon never had a chance to reach their full potential. We can do better. The State could include the children of Governor Bacon in the conversation by helping to create a first of its kind program focused on increasing socialization skills to increase job readiness and independence. This type of program would have benefited every child at Governor Bacon, especially as he or she entered adulthood. I am honored to be working with Expanding Options, Inc., a 501 (c) 3 organization for high-functioning adults with disabilities and their families, that has helped me shape my vision for the future.