The Problem with Residency Programs for Emerging Writers

January 24, 2019


Shortly before his death, James Baldwin told friends here in Saint Paul de Vence that he would like to see his home converted into a colony for "young black writers." As a frequent resident of arts colonies like MacDowell and Yaddo, Baldwin understood the writer's need for time and peace and space to get the work done.


There are hundreds of artist residency programs around the globe, yet very few offer their residents stipends for living and travel. And since well-established authors are also vying for these spots, the odds for an emerging writer are rough. 


And if a new writer does break through and manage to win a coveted spot? How do they get there? How much will that plane ticket cost? How will they pay the rent back home while they're off in the woods writing a book we all need?


The vast majority of residency programs offer no help. A few of them, mostly long-established organizations, have created a fund for travel stipends, but these awards are small and rarely cover everyone. 


One wonders how many emerging and talented writers are forced to turn down these residency awards. Or how many never apply in the first place, figuring the costs would be out of reach.


James Baldwin wrote often about struggling to write his books while living in financial insecurity. Determined that the Maison Baldwin Writer-in-Residence Program wouldn't perpetuate this stress on the writer's spirit, we decided from the outset that we would cover our residents' travel costs. (Next year, we'll also get started on finding money to cover their living expenses back home.)


We're a start-up nonprofit arts and culture organization doing this work on a shoestring. To launch this program, we're watching every dime and maximizing resources, such as partnering with the city of St. Paul de Vence to host one of our writers in their newly renovated artist-in-residence house. And a group of distinguished authors are donating their time in support of the project.


Each of our 2019 writers in residence has faced multiple barriers on their way to becoming emerging talents. We are determined that airfare not become another. Want to help? Email us to donate your frequent flier miles to help cover the cost of travel for our 2019 artists in residence. 


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