Power Q & A with Soraya Peerbaye

Q: What advice do you have for writers applying for grants?

A: I've been on all sides of the granting process - an applicant, a juror, and a grants officer. My advice is, show the writing that most vividly illustrates the challenge of your project. This doesn't necessarily mean writing that is done. What I look for as a reader is something that's really crackling, that's alive with questions, experiments, potential - even if it's rough.

 Photo credit:  Ayelet Tsabari

Photo credit: Ayelet Tsabari

I think the part of the application of which writers are most suspicious is the project description. There's a general anxiety-slash-annoyance that this is a requirement that has nothing to do with art; that, especially in forms like poetry, it forces a thematic or even a political convention onto the work. The project is simply what is calling you at this moment in time - whether it's a story you need to tell, a curiosity about language, a new direction, or a deepening commitment to the process you've developed... It helps to remember that you're addressing other artists - don't we covet the opportunity to speak about our craft, in interviews, roundtables etc.? 

If you're unsuccessful - apply again. Trust me on this - keep writing and re-writing, and apply again. Or if you're convinced it's right, re-submit the same material - you may find that you'll be successful with another jury. It doesn't mean that the system is capricious - every jury has its own chemistry, its own sensibility; and at the end of the day, the funding is limited. Jurors (and grants officers) are often heart-broken about what they can't support.

All that said, the system isn't perfect. So - if you see something that isn't working, advocate. Arts councils in Canada have made progress towards greater diversity on our juries, but we still need deeper conversations about what we value in literature and literary criticism. We need to develop curiosity and fluency in a wider spectrum of genres, and for making art in a period of decolonization. Hold each other up.

About Soraya...

Soraya Peerbaye’s most recent collection of poetry, Tell: Poems for a Girlhood, won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry in English and was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry prize. Her first book, Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names, was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award; her poems have also appeared in Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Women Poets, and the chapbook anthology Translating Horses. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph.