Vermont Writer Alexander Chee Named USA Fellow | Books | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermont Writer Alexander Chee Named USA Fellow

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Alexander Chee - COURTESY OF ROBERT GILL
  • Courtesy Of Robert Gill
  • Alexander Chee

A notable Vermont writer is among the recipients of a $50,000 cash fellowship from United States Artists, a Chicago organization devoted to supporting working creatives. Its 2021 fellows were announced on Wednesday, February 3.

Bradford resident Alexander Chee is an associate professor of English at Dartmouth College and the author of two novels, Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night, and the essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. The recipient of a slew of other honors, including a 2003 Whiting Award, he writes stories and essays in which the personal and political are inextricable.

In a piece published last June in the New York Times, for instance, Chee reflects on how his experiences as an activist during the AIDS crisis shaped his view of the current pandemic. "This virus is not that virus," he writes. "But this country is still that country."

Chee is one of 60 artists in 10 creative disciplines who received the USA grant this year; among the other fellows are best-selling author Ocean Vuong, jazz saxophonist Edward "Kidd" Jordan and transmedia artist Stephanie Dinkins. USA is also a founding partner of Artist Relief, which has distributed more than $20 million to artists affected by the pandemic, according to its website.

Artists must be nominated before they can apply for the USA grant, as Chee did about a year ago, he said. Reached by phone, he described himself as "just incredibly grateful for this grant opportunity at this time." The USA grant, he said, "helps writers in a variety of ways precisely because it is so open" — that is, recipients can use the money in any way they choose.

For Chee, that will mean doing "travel that I need for the next project," he said. He hopes to expand in book form on two other 2020 pieces published in the Times. One examines the legacy of the Japanese occupation in his father's native Korea. The other is a short story in T Magazine, titled "Did You Die at Home?" Its subject: a North Korean defector who encounters the ghost of the compatriot with whom she had a passionate affair in East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

To research his fiction, Chee said, he has often needed to take on journalistic assignments on related subjects. The grant will give him more freedom.

On the Dartmouth faculty since 2016, Chee said, "I love Vermont," and he described the area as having "a beautiful kind of community of mind and spirit." He cited examples: a community shelf in Chelsea where people drop off used skates; a library expanding its hours; a baker — John Mellquist of Vershire's Trukenbrod Mill & Bakery — asking for volunteers to help thresh his wheat. "There's just something that I have really appreciated about it," Chee said.

While there are many awards for emerging writers, Chee said he's grateful that the USA fellowship "is open to the mid-career author, and it highlights the importance of that work." The grant, he said, "allows you to look past your immediate project and think holistically about your career. I'm looking forward to seeing what I'll do with it."