Clarion West, Money, And Me
We have just 7 days left before the Butler Scholarship fundraiser ends. I won’t post about this every day, but I’m going to post about it three more times. This is the first.
Here’s a story I’ve told before, but it bears telling again. When I applied to go to Clarion West, I was at the tail end of a very difficult, life-changing year. In 2002 several things happened to me. The first is that I wrote more short stories in one year than I ever had before, thus making me feel like a real writer. The second is that I realized the whole working full-time for a blah job just to pay the bills thing was not cutting it in the keeping myself intact department. The third was that I got cancer, which put thing one and thing two in perspective right quick.
The cancer I had was caught very early, was eliminated by an operation, and thankfully required minimal aftercare to deal with completely. Still, that kind of thing will knock you on your ass in a minute. I decided that I needed to get out of New York and leave my job behind and focus on being a writer. And step one of that focus was to go to Clarion.
I applied to both Clarion and Clarion West. I did not have much money. Certainly not enough to cover tuition. Especially after paying to get out of my lease early, paying for a U-Haul, and leaving behind steady income. I started a “Send Tempest To Clarion” fund, and my generous friends donated. But I still did not have enough to pay tuition. I was willing to take out a loan, even at a high interest rate, because I knew this was important for me to do.
I got accepted to both Clarion and Clarion West. I opted for West because three of my heroes were teaching there that year. I spoke to Neile (one of the co-admins) on the phone and told her that I did need financial assistance if there was any, as I had little money. My thought was that if scholarships could cover just 1/3rd, I could get the rest somehow. Neile called me up shortly after I filed my financial aid application and told me that my entire tuition was covered. Not by the normal scholarships, though. A person had paid my full tuition. Someone who wished to remain anonymous.
I can’t remember if I cried right there on the phone or held it until after, but I did cry.
I do remember asking Neile to convey a huge thank you to that person when she called. I repeated this entreaty when I finally got to Clarion West all those weeks later. And I believe I’ve mentioned it on this blog a few times, too. But it bears repeating again:
Thank you, whoever you are/were. That was such an amazing gift.
Going to either of the Clarions is a giant commitment. Not only do you have the cost for tuition, but many also leave behind jobs, houses, apartments, family, financial obligations. And there’s no guarantee that going to the workshop will result in you getting published or going on to be a full-time writer. Of course, it’s not all about the writing. At the Clarions, students get to meet important people in the community and network, which is important in any career. And you make connections with the other students, who may go on to become great writers as well. Or, at least, really good friends and supporters.
Not every awesome spec fic writer went to Clarion or Clarion West. But it is an opportunity that many decide to avail themselves of and then benefit from.
When that anonymous person paid my tuition, I felt like she or he was saying to me: your voice matters. I believe that enough to give you thousands of dollars. Prove me right.
This is why, ever since its inception, I have been a supporter of the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. Each year, this fund does for two students of color going to Clarion and Clarion West what that donor did for me, which is to say: your voice matters. It matters so much that we are going to give you thousands of dollars for this chance to improve your writing and meet people in this community who will further support you.
Except this time the money doesn’t come from just one person, it comes from hundreds, maybe thousands. It comes from those of you who have already bought tickets to win an eReader. It comes from those who don’t particularly want an eReader, but are willing to donate directly to the fund. I hope you’re one of those people.