A LONG AGO LETTER TO THE GUGGENHEIM FOUNDATION, September 20, 1994
I am a 56-year-old writer who has applied for a Guggenheim grant for the last 25 years Each year I have dutifully and scrupulously filled out the forms, written apologetic beseeching requests to my references, and sent your committee the required “narrative essay” of my projected plans and my list of publications. Many of my references — those who taught me, those who supported– me are now dead or are too old to refer me. Wallace Stegner died last year at the age of 84. Andrew Lytle is 92 years old. Milton Hindus is not well. George Core, editor of The Sewanee Review, has explained that he (he!) has felt snubbed by your refusal to award me a grant and thus will not write again. Norma Klein is dead. Lynne Sharon Schwartz is recovering from the Epstein-Barr virus. Alice Adams, I am told recently, had cancer surgery. Cynthia Ozick has written for me for at least the last eight years. She and Bob Stone, my classmate in the Stegner fiction workshop at Stanford in 1962, are lately overwhelmed by requests to appear and receive literary prizes and honors.
How can I ask them to write for me again, merely to insist one more time that I am a talented writer who deserves a grant – for what other content can be found in these letters? Let me save all of them the trouble this year. Allow me not to cringe with embarrassment in order to beg their favors one more time. Let me not beseech these illustrious and absorbed artists who would – out of friendship and obligation and goodwill – take time out of their dwindling years to write the required form letter to Guggenheim.
Please accept instead this reference letter from me or kindly consult the 100 letters sent to you in my behalf in the past 25 years. This letter is to state that I have published fourteen novels and four volumes of short stories, I have won major literary prizes, I have lived the dedicated life of a serious writer, I have suffered the requisite years of rejection and I have seen enough turn-down letters to kill a horse, letters which for some reason arrive every year on my birthday, March 15th . Their annual message urges me to understand that, as always, “a large number of excellent candidates had to be denied.” The Guggenheim committee and I have been writing the same letter to one another for 25 years. This year I find I must alter the nature of the exchange. Enclosed is a comprehensive narrative of my life as a writer. Please consider me for a grant before the year of death finds occasion to be added after my name.
Merrill Joan Gerber.