40 Years of Fellowships Highlights

40 Years of Fellowships Highlights


In 2006, I went with my kids to Lebanon – without my husband. We arrived July 13th. The next morning, I got a phone call from my father, saying, “You can’t leave the house. There’s a war.” As soon as we got to the border, there was a truck filled with women and kids. They were completely packed in there. It just hit me: I was so wrapped up in my story and my kids’ story, and at that point, I realized that every single person here has a story. So I decided to come put my kids to safety, here, and when things – I mean, I’m not a war photographer – but when things quieted down, I’d like to go back to Lebanon and photograph the aftermath. Nobody had seen this work, and I applied to the MCC with this work. For me to have this work recognized was so… It made me legitimize the work, it gave it purpose. It was really a powerful moment for me. I love psychological subtext. I love the silence, the body language, the gesture. It’s a story of my cousin who was kidnapped by his mother, it turns out, when he was five years old, from his native Greece. After 11 years of silence, and no contact and this endless, worldwide search, the mother of the boy called the father, who lived in Greece, and said, “I have your son, and if you want him, come and get him.” So, that was the beginning of the shoot. I felt like it’s never going to be done. I’m up here in this room, working totally alone. It’s head-banging time. Every other day, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this. The perfect ending, in my mind, presented itself in 2006. So the fellowship that came in 2007 was such a boost at my lowest of “Am I ever going to finish with this film? Is it speaking to anyone? I could use a little more cash.” And it came at just the right time, more psychologically than anything else. Just, go for it. There’s the finish line, just do it. In 1975, I had just been invited by the New Haven Opera Theatre to write an opera for them: Calderon’s “La Vida es Sueno” – “Life Is a Dream.” And I was just on the very beginning stages of composing it when I received this award. The New Haven Opera Theatre actually ceased to exist for a variety of reasons. I finally gave up on it, and it sat on the shelf until just before the year 2000. I was urged by a composer friend of mine. He said, “This is great stuff. You really have got to bring it out there.” Now there was no way that I had the money to produce it as a staged product. But I did raise enough money to put on a concert version of one act of it, which was done here in Amherst and also at Paine Hall at Harvard University, back to back. It was one of these situations where everybody was really pulling together to make this work. And lo and behold, it won the Pulitzer, which astonished me, because it was just a fragment of a piece. As a matter of fact, it’s unprecedented that I know of. So, there’s quite a trajectory that takes off from that 1975 award. If you work in the arts, you are used to rejection, and you’re used to losing stuff. You have to develop a thick skin, otherwise you won’t survive. That’s normal. When I won the award, it was an affirmation that what I was putting my heart and soul into was worth it. That it was worth it for me to keep going. Massachusetts saw a future for me in the Commonwealth.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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