Anderson Foundation Awards Greenwood

The 1999 winner of the Sherwood Anderson Foundation Award is Tammy Greenwood of San Diego, California, who writes about herself as follows:

I was born in rural Vermont in 1969. We lived in a small town with a country store, a library, and a post office. We didn’t have cable television, and the nearest movie theater was ten miles away. Additionally, I was an only child until I was seven years old when we adopted my sister, Ceilidh.

To entertain myself, particularly in the winters (which are brutal in the Northeast Kingdom), I became a reader. Even in the summertime, my mother and father often had to pull me away from my book and out of my purple bean bag chair in order for me to get some fresh air. I think my desire to write evolved out of my love of books. I distinctly remember thinking, “I could write a book,” and lugging my parents’ enormous electric typewriter out of the closet to the kitchen table. My first “novel” was the result, forty-pages, typed on notebook paper.

My parents always encouraged me to pursue the arts. I danced for ten years and was involved in music and theater. But because there were so many artistic outlets available to me, I didn’t devote a significant amount oftime to writing until I went to college. It was while I was studying at the University of Vermont that I decided that I wanted to make a life out of writing.

After graduating from UVM, I was at a loss about what to do next in terms of becoming a writer. The unfortunate result of my indecision was a year spent working in retail. Eventually, I began applying to graduate schools and finally accepted a teaching assistantship from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. I had never been there before. I loaded up my truck and drove across country (with the help of my parents and two CB radios to communicate between our vehicles). And I fell in love with Flagstaff. I received my MA in English from NAU in 1994 and was awarded an AWP Intro Journals award for a story called “The Hour of Lead” which was published in Quarterly West. I decided to continue my writing studies, but this meant moving from Flagstaff.

My boyfriend, Patrick (whom I met in Arizona) and I then loaded the truck again and drove to Seattle, where I had been accepted into the University of Washington’s MFA program. While I was at UW, I wrote my first real novel, “Paper Rain,” as my thesis. (The whole rain theme was pretty pervasive while I was in the Northwest.) We decided to return to theSouthwest then, deciding on San Diego one rainy day as we stared at an atlas looking for sun. This time when we moved, it took two trucks and a U-Haul trailer.

In San Diego, for the first time in a long time, I was no longer a student. I had had a lot of jobs already, and this period of my life was no different. I’d worked in a coffee shop, in clothing stores, and at an arts ticket office. I had tried telemarketing, teaching, and even working for UW’s School of Fisheries, organizing archives. In San Diego, I was a temp, and then eventually I got a job working thirty hours a week at a software company. It was perfect. I had plenty of time to write, and I could afford to eat.

After receiving more than a hundred rejections from agents and editors for “Paper Rain,” I finally got an agent who was interested in my work. She took on the book but had no more luck selling it than I had. Frustrated, I decided to start a new project. Over the next eight months I wrote “Breathing Water.” My agent was able to sell this novel within a couple of weeks. That was a year ago. “Breathing Water” was published by St. Martin’s Press in May of this year.

In August, St. Martin’s made an offer for “Nearer than the Sky,” my new novel, and I have accepted the offer. Unfortunately, I’m still driving the same truck.

I am still an avid reader, and the influences on my writing are many. I am indebted to Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner for their narrative geniuses. I aspire to the lyricism of Alice Hoffman, Elizabeth Berg, Anais Nin, and Marguerite Duras. I also admire A.M. Homes, Mary Gaitskill, and Kathryn Harrison. I am in perpetual awe of John Irving for his intricate plots and humor. I look to the poets e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Hass for rhythm and language. I have also had the good fortune of having Howard Frank Mosher, one of my favorite writers, as
a mentor.

This year “Breathing Water” was published and has received favorable reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, The San Diego Union Tribune, and The New York Times Book Review. I turned thirty in June, and Patrick and Iare getting married in early September. [They were in fact married in September.} And now, I have been offered this wonderful gift. It’s been quite a year.