The Speculative Literature Foundation Announces a Working Class Writer Grant

This is a really interesting idea. From the grant page:

Working class, blue-collar, poor, and homeless writers have been historically underrepresented in speculative fiction, due to financial barriers which have made it much harder for them to have access to the writing world. Such lack of access might include an inability to attend conventions, to purchase a computer, to buy books, to attend college or high school, to have the time to write (if, for example, you must work two jobs simply to pay rent and feed a family, or if you must spend all your waking hours job-hunting for months on end). The SLF would like to assist in finding more of these marginalized voices and bringing them into speculative fiction.

You are eligible for this grant if you come from a background such as described above, if you grew up (or are growing up) in homelessness, poverty, or a blue collar / working-class household, or if you have lived for a significant portion of your life in such conditions, especially if you had limited access to relatives/friends who could assist you financially. We will give preference to members of that larger pool who are currently in financial need (given our limited funds).

There are of course more details at the link above.

I don’t think it would come as much of a surprise that I think this grant is a good idea. Writing is easier when you have a little bit of headspace to do it in — a headspace that’s not crowded with worries about work and bills and whether the super-old computer you write on is about to implode, taking your work with it. That’s what I see that grant offering: That little bit of headspace to let creativity happen.

Again, details at are the link. Check it out and share it with folks for whom it could be useful.

38 Comments on “The Speculative Literature Foundation Announces a Working Class Writer Grant”

  1. I really think this is a great idea.

    But I have some real concerns about who is going to be served by this. What confidence do we have that an announcement on is going to reach folks who are too busy with two jobs to write and too poor to afford their own laptop. Would these folks know where to look and prioritize looking for grants over writing? Then there’s the added irony of a formal application process (including writing samples).

    Again: I think this is a great concept. But I’d feel better about an announcement that included some plans of how this will be publicized to reach the folks who need it most, as opposed to the folks (like me) who will have fuzzy feelings about it but aren’t in need.

    (I get that boosting it on one of the biggest blogs on the Internet is not a bad start, so kudos to Our Dear Proprietor for the signal-boost!)

  2. I just read the list of “What we mean by working class/impoverished.” Guh! That was me for most of my life, and one of the things that kept me going was SF/F fiction and my dream of writing. I don’t need this grant now, but I am so happy to see that it exists to help people who are still in a place where this money will make a difference. Thanks for sharing this, John.

    Happy Holidays!

  3. Nathaniel Givens:

    Agreed that one key to getting this to work is getting the message out there that it’s available.

    That said, it is with some regret I note that there are all too many writers for whom this grant would be useful. I suspect the problem will not be that too few eligible people will find out about it, but that the grant committee will be swamped.

  4. I guess I’m just confused then, John.

    You say that many writers could use this grant, and I don’t doubt you for a minute. There’s a reason the term “starving artist” is so well-known. But the very commonality of these kinds of writers seems to contradict the proposed intent of the grant, which is to reach out not just to writers without cash, but specifically to underrepresented writers from underprivileged backgrounds.

    I mean, it lists: “homelessness, poverty, or a blue collar / working-class household,” and talks about folks who didn’t go to college or even high school. That seems like a class apart from you English major who is eking out a living while trying to get a writing career started. Just the fact that you talk about “writers” who could benefit this and the grant seems targeted to folks who want to, but can’t write makes it sound like we’re talking about two different groups of people.

    I’m ready to be educated on this one: when you talk about the large number of writers do you have in mind folks who are / grew up homeless (for example) and that kind of thing? Or just the harsh reality that writing for a living is incredibly hard to do?

    (For context: I spent most of my childhood qualifying for free lunches, but it would be a crime for me to apply for this grant even if I technically qualify ’cause I had so many other advantages like a stable home and access to top-notch public schooling.)

  5. Thanks for sharing, John. I’m honored to be on the jury, though my guess is there will be far more qualified people than me ready to volunteer next year.

  6. Interesting idea. The grant money is enough to cover a new computer, printer, with a little left over if someone is careful. Or cover an editor to review work before submitting. Or even an editor and cheap cover artist if pursuing self-publishing and careful. Always check Preditors & Editors as well as Writer’s Beware before hiring someone or submitting your work for publishing.

  7. On “getting the word out” I can’t replicate this much further than my local area, but over the years I’ve built up a good relationship with other local charities and organizations (Durham Literacy Center and the Durham County Library, chiefly) that can more directly get the word out and help with any application issues. I encourage people interested in spreading the word about this to post flyers at their local libraries and contact similar local groups.

  8. @Nathaniel: “I mean, it lists: “homelessness, poverty, or a blue collar / working-class household,” and talks about folks who didn’t go to college or even high school.”…”

    I know a number of people trying to become authors who fit poverty/blue collar/didn’t go to college bill. I may even know a couple who didn’t graduate high school.

  9. Great idea. Of course, it will need to be refined and altered according to how it plays out, but a step in the right direction. Better to try and fail a few times, then to have never tried at all.

  10. @Nathaniel I know a man who never finished high school and who was so poor that his family ate out of dumpsters for awhile. He’s now attending Yale on scholarships. Amazing people exist at all levels of our society, and I truly believe that grants like this find the people they are meant to help just like my friend found someone who saw his potential and gave him a chance.

  11. Nathaniel Givens:

    There is being concerned about best positioning and delivering a solution and there is making perfect the enemy of the good.

    You’re absolutely right about wondering how to best put this in front of the right audience, but eventually you have to decide you’ve found the best balance of finding the people in need and not spending all your time&money&resources on finding The Best Candidate. It’s possible to prepare & select to the detriment of serving a larger audience.

    It seems to me if you want to parse this as finely as you are that you’d be better off taking it up with the grant committee than John who has simply shared it with us. Maybe they will have a way for you to participate and help with outreach to people who aren’t going to see it on a blog.

  12. Next steps that would be even better: Markets for short work that pay better than six to nine cents per word; reply times to submitted novels that are measured in days and weeks rather than months and years; an end to publishers’ presumption of exclusivity for submitted works.

  13. I have to say I’m with Nathaniel Givens on this one, Scalzi – Noble Cause, but a lot of effort (that most working-class writers would be better off expending, you know, writing rather than applying for a grant) for $750! If the application process was less time-consuming/demanding, and/or if the money were better (like enough to support a writer for six months plus buy a new decent PC – rather than a bottom-shelf glorified Netbook!), then maybe this wouldn’t feel quite so much like putting down a damp sponge for somebody to do a high dive into.

    I also agree with Doug – you want to help working-class Speculative Fiction writers? How about sponsoring better-paying short story markets, limiting rights to first serial plus option for reprint (like magazine publishers used to!), and quicker turnaround times.

    My very Right Wing kid brother often rants about “Rich Libburuls Who’ve Never Been Out in the Real World” – most of the time it’s just him parroting a Right-Wing Media talking point, but when I hear about something like this I wonder if there might not be something to what he says.

    I was going to put down what Tamora Pierce (my wife, who until about a decade or so ago pretty much fit this category perfectly!) had to say when I read this to her – but I’ll let her say it herself instead….

  14. timliebe:

    Well, actually, you can buy a number of very decent computers (i.e., not gloried netbooks) for well under $750 — here’s one. Here’s a particularly cool laptop/tablet combo for just $400, and here’s a not-notebook that’s well featured for writing for just $250 — which is to say that the suggestion that an inexpensive computer is necessarily a poor one is no longer sustainable. I’ll note these days I do a fair amount of writing on a Chromebook that retails in the $200 – $250 range. It’s a nice piece of kit, so long as you have Internet and a willingness to use Google’s services.

    As for the application process, 750 words plus a writing sample which can be previously published (or previously written if not published) plus a short bibliography is not all that time consuming. People write as much in comments here on a regular basis — your comment, in fact, it about a third of the way there. I suspect many of the people for whom this grant would apply could do it relatively quickly.

    I certainly agree it would be nicer if the grant were larger. The good news here — the Speculative Literature Foundation takes donations, so it’s entirely possible for people who are fortunate to donate to the Working Class writers grant specifically to increase the size of the grant. If you’re a US taxpayer, the donation is tax deductible, which is nice too. I know the people who run the SLF; they’re good people, and their other grants have helped several writers do their thing. I have even donated to the SLF myself in the past, so it’s a group I can say I support.

    What I see here is a lot of “What you’re doing is not how I would do it — why don’t you do the thing I would do?” The answer, I suspect, is because SLF is set up to do the things it does, with the amount of resources it has to do them. If you would like them, or anyone else, to do other things, I would say it would be useful to give them the support they would need to do the things you think are useful.

    In the meantime, of course, anyone eligible for the grant who does not believe the grant application process is worth their time should not apply. And those who think it is, should. I’ve know enough writers in my own experience who would see a $750 grant as deeply useful; I suspect many of them would apply, just as I suspect the SLF will have more applicants than they imagined.

    Shorter version: SLF is doing something concrete and useful. If you feel it’s not enough, I invite you (that’s the general you, not specifically calling out Tim) to help make it enough.

  15. A “gloried netbook” sounds like something Bob Howard would whip up in the field for the Laundry. We don’t have time for a desktop with full IT support monkey-paw, just download a freeware hand of glory onto that pad.

  16. A short cover letter and a writing sample are things that every writer should take the time to prepare when they are trying to sell their work. And as for whether $750 is helpful or not – for people who are struggling to make ends meet, getting an extra bump like this could help catch up on bills or pay down debts. Then the recipient might not feel like they need to pick up so many extra shifts or work a bunch of overtime, which frees up more time for writing. Anyone who thinks this money wouldn’t be helpful to someone who is struggling financially is sorely mistaken.
    Also, in terms of the cost of buying a computer, I just purchase a used (less than one year old) Dell Inspiron with an i5 processor and 6gb of installed RAM for less than $300. All I had to do was restore it to factory settings and it was basically brand new. Easily the best computer I’ve ever owned, and well under $750.
    I contacted the director of the SLF today to inquire about their donation policies and she told me that there are two options for donating directly to this fund:
    1) Any amount donated to the fund will count toward future years, for the purpose of increasing the award amount and/or funding additional recipients.
    2) One can donate a minimum of $750 to fully fund a single recipient in future years.
    Her contact information is on the site, so you can reach her directly if you have any questions/concerns.

  17. Reblogged this on "DON'T READ BOOKS" and commented:
    So much yes.
    This is the best idea ever. The only grants for writing I’ve found are for writers who have already been published and THEN only if they were published ‘traditionally.’ Apply if you will. I might.

  18. I work in a grant program for the homeless and I’m sharing this with all the other case managers and clients.
    To the naysayers: The message will reach the audience if you carry it.

  19. A couple people have said that it would be better to create higher paying markets than to give funds to individual writers. That suggestion takes a concrete, eminently doable proposal and jettisons it in favour of a vague one whose logistics are orders of magnitude more difficult. Obviously writers (including working class ones) would be better off if markets for short fiction paid more. But the forces that effect the pay rates for short fiction are so large and diffuse it’s hard to see what a small non-profit can do to change them. What that small non-profit can do is give relatively small but meaningful amounts of money to individuals. Which is what they’re doing.

    If I sound more irate than the subject deserves, it could be because I’m sick of seeing concrete anti-poverty projects get scuttled because they don’t address problems at a “deep” enough level, which seems to happen regularly in this area.

  20. I can agree somewhat with those who aren’t into the application process, but as for the amount of money – do you know how much of my life each month $750 would pay for?
    That’s my rent. Boom! A bit more than a third of that month’s pay freed up. Any effort less than about 60 hours of work is less effort than I would normally expend to get that much money, and suddenly I’m not spending my creative energy on figuring out how to make $20 last two more weeks in months where I had an unexpected car repair, or running through what might go wrong that costs money before I get paid again.
    When your next step to being an author is to actually have the mental energy to think about finishing, refining and marketing your work in the first place, it’s hard to underestimate the value in suddenly removing a big suck on your mental energy.

  21. I am not a writer, but at one point in my college career I got a “tiny” grant of $750 from a local group of artists. I can say in all seriousness that that grant – and the modest computer I bought with it- is what let me finish college. Every little bit helps. I’ve shared this onwards in hopes it reaches as many people as possible.

  22. For the folks saying $750.00 is not a lot of money – that’s two weeks’ salary, potentially available for organizing some work I’ve already done and spending a few hours writing a letter. $750.00 is a lot of money.

  23. I’m glad there are some folks visiting this blog who do live “out there in the real world” and understand how much value a “small” amount of money has to people who are barely scraping by. I’m disappointed by limited participation in this discussion thread, however. 25 comments? Everyone is out holiday shopping, I guess. John, maybe you can remind people about this after the shopping season is over? Also want to reiterate that those of us who have the means to give to non-profits on a semi-regular basis can contribute directly to this grant fund to increase the award amount/number of recipients in the future.

    *crickets chirping* – cue the tumbleweed

  24. Regarding the other ideas people are proposing – Don’t make the better the enemy of the good. This proposal is good.

    In the long term it won’t change the industry but it will possibly help get another person active in the field. Changing the field is entirely a different ball of wax.

  25. @georgewilliamherbert I’m all for a fund drive! I would be happy to pledge $75 as well. All we need is eight more people to do the same and we can get them to add one more prize. Again, though, *crickets chirping*

  26. I really love this. Reminds me of the homeless man who had someone reach out to him and offer to teach him programming. He accepted, and released an iOS app a couple weeks ago.

    It reminds you of how many great contributions we’re missing out on by letting this kind of poverty and homelessness persist.

    I hope this has a similar effect.

  27. @Gary C: Do you mind, maybe, not being quite so much of a downer? (And, it must be said, a prod?)

    I hate being personal, but what the people here choose to spend their (probably limited, in most cases including mine) income on at Christmas is their own business, not yours.

    @Scalzi put the message out. Please leave it at that, and put your agenda and your crickets away for the duration.

  28. For the folks who are saying that this grant isn’t enough/isn’t done right/isn’t helpful/whatever… Let me offer myself as a case study.

    Back in 2004 I won the first SLF Travel Grant. It was only $600 then. That award isn’t based on financial hardship, but I applied for it because I was struggling at the time — just starting my career in an expensive city (’cause that’s where I got a job), in debt up to my eyeballs, working in education where compensation is ha ha ha yeah whatever — and travel of any kind other than the absolutely necessary was out of the question. When I got the grant, tho’, I was able to go to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, and spend a week looking at Anasazi cliff dwellings and getting my ass handed to me by little old Navajo ladies who could out-hike me without even blinking. That experience became one of the settings in my first novels, the Dreamblood books. And winning the grant was one of the crucial confidence-builders that encouraged me to keep trying when those novels initially got rejected.

    I’m currently working on my sixth novel. I’m not rich by any stretch, but I no longer need help with travel. Hell, my last few major trips — France, Australia, exotic Chicago — have been paid for by other people, because (sometimes) that’s what happens when you become a successful writer. I keep donating to the SLF tho’, and have served on the awards jury for the Travel Grant, because that tiny amount of money made a huge difference in my career, and I’m still unbelievably grateful for it.

    These awards aren’t being given out at random. They’re being given to people who have clear goals, things they want to accomplish, for whom the small amount of the award will make a difference. And they work.

  29. It’s very hard for my to understand people who are criticising others for putting up hard cash to help at least one person. Seems no good deed goes unpunished. Note: this is a personal comment and in no way represents the views of any organization I am involved with

  30. I just finished a writing workshop where I was very happy to pay “full price” because part of my dues paid for someone in prison, or food-insecure, or homeless, or otherwise was suffering in every way that most artists historically have, except for one: not finding their voice.

    Art is what transforms misery into transcendental experience. To be without a voice, to not even know you have a voice, is to be sitting on gold while you starve to death next to a restaurant.

    I’ve forwarded the links to Write Around Portland [Oregon] in the hope that there’s common ground to be found between two institutions seeking to find ways for people in hard places to write themselves a new future in an identity that they already own. Thank you, John, for publishing this.

  31. I see two previous posters would pony up $75 for support. Count me in, if there’s a framework created to do it.

  32. Just stumbled across this when Googling “working class writing” and I have to thank you for posting the links for this. While I’m too late for this year’s working class writer’s grant, I might be able to slide in under the wire to apply for the Older Writer’s grant.

    To the nay-sayers, and those who feel that $750 won’t change the world, I’m reminded of the story of the man who saw a child walking along the beach after a storm. Tons of starfish (or jelly fish or….whatever, depending on who’s telling the story) are washed up on the beach and the boy is picking up one after another to toss them back into the water. The man tells him, “You can’t save them all. Why bother?” to which the boy replies, “But I can save this one…and this one…and…” If it gives one person a hand up, that’s a good start.

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