The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded a 2008 Literature Fellowship in creative writing, valued at $25,000, to author David Vann, an assistant professor in Florida State University’s Creative Writing Program and a skilled sailor who has logged more than 40,000 offshore miles and barely lived to tell about it.
Out of the nearly 800 applicants from across the nation for the prestigious NEA Literature Fellowship in creative writing, Vann is one of just 42 authors chosen, and one of only about 10 in that select group who writes creative nonfiction.
He is one of only two recipients for 2008 from the state of Florida, and both are connected to the FSU Department of English and its celebrated Creative Writing Program. (The other winner from the Sunshine State—and Florida State—is author and Professor Emerita of English Sheila Ortiz-Taylor, who retired from FSU in 2006).
Vann earned his NEA fellowship on the strength of an excerpt from his second memoir, “Crocodile: Memoirs from a Mexican Drug-Running Port,” which will be submitted to publishers this year.
A harrowing account of his narrow escape from a Mexican drug-running port on the border of Guatemala, Vann calls “Crocodile” a story of betrayal, first by the captain and chef who abandon his boat with a destroyed engine, then by his one friend in the port, Santiago. “In trying to recover what was stolen from me, I underestimate the dangers there and end up in dire straits that force me to examine the underlying reasons for the risks I take,” he said.
Vann’s first memoir, “A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea,” became a 2005 national bestseller. He has further adventures at sea—and a third memoir—planned for 2008. NEA Literature Fellowships encourage new work by allowing authors the means and time to write.
“We heartily congratulate David Vann not only for his NEA fellowship but also for repeatedly cheating disaster at sea,” said Joseph Travis, dean of FSU’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“Given the intense competition for the NEA Literature Fellowship in creative writing, I’m thrilled to have been selected,” Vann said. “The support that Florida State University’s faculty and Office of Research provide to new assistant professors is tremendous.”
The past 12 months have been especially winning ones for Vann. In August 2007, he received the esteemed Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction for the deeply personal “Legend of a Suicide,” a collection of five short stories and one novella, set for publication in 2008, that drew inspiration from his father’s suicide when Vann was 13.
Born on Alaska’s Adak Island and part Cherokee Indian, Vann earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from Cornell University. He began sailing in 1996 while leading educational charters off the coasts of Mexico, Turkey, the San Juan Islands and the British Virgin Islands as a Jones lecturer at Stanford University, from which he received the distinguished Wallace Stegner Fellowship and the John L’Heureux Fellowship.
Vann teaches writing classes in creative nonfiction and fiction at FSU. His work has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as Esquire—including an article in its December 2007 issue—The Atlantic Monthly, Writer’s Digest, Men’s Journal and Outside, with features forthcoming in 2008 in Esquire, Outside and Outside’s GO. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize.
FSU has one of the nation’s top 10 graduate-level creative writing programs and one of the top five for Ph.D. seekers, according to the 2007 special fiction edition of The Atlantic magazine. To learn more about the program that The Atlantic ranks among “The Best of the Best,” go to www.english.fsu.edu/crw/.