Professor Ferch Earns $25,000 Creative Writing Fellowship

Shann Ferch

November 18, 2011

Gonzaga News Service

SPOKANE, Wash. — Gonzaga University Professor Shann "Ray" Ferch, a distinguished fiction writer, poet, and scholar of leadership and forgiveness studies in Gonzaga's Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies, has been awarded a prestigious $25,000 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ferch uses his middle name "Ray" as his pen name to pay tribute to his mother who shares the name.

"I write fiction and poetry under my middle name in honor of my Mom, Saundra Rae, a lovely and poetic woman," said Ferch, whose mother and father live in Bozeman, Mont. Ferch spent part of his childhood on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Southeast Montana, attended Park High in Livingston, Mont., and played basketball for Montana State and Pepperdine universities before playing overseas in Germany.

Ferch is among only 40 writers chosen nationally to receive the 2012 NEA fellowship. The NEA received nearly 1,200 eligible applications for the highly competitive award, which involves the submission of creative writing that was judged by a national panel, and alternates annually between poetry and prose. "Our Creative Writing Fellowships represent one of the National Endowment for the Arts' most direct investments in American creativity," said NEA Chair Rocco Landesman.

In accepting the award, Ferch described the fellowship as "an elegant and evocative gift. I receive it with love and gratitude for America's commitment to the art of the short story, to poetry, to creative nonfiction, and to novels of great human depth and reach." Ferch said he will use the money as a foundation for further work on short stories, essays, and poems that look at the nature of genocide and the nature of ultimate forgiveness in America and throughout the world.

"The literary arts are the place where the most fiercely held hopes of the nation meet the most grave atrocities between people and cultures," he said. "In this beautiful and complex landscape of human loss and heartache, the presence of legitimate and enduring love is like oxygen, and can be found in poems and stories of vitality in the United States and worldwide. A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts is a grace."

Ferch added that he is humbled by the opportunity to continue to pursue what has been such life-giving work.

"I believe poems and stories are like prayers, given to a writer as much as they are worked at with sweat and tears," he said. "I hope I can listen whole-heartedly to what is given."

His collection of short stories "American Masculine" (Graywolf Press), won the Bakeless Prize and has received critical acclaim from Esquire, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, the American Library Association, and the likes of Sherman Alexie and Dave Eggers. His book "Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity" (Rowman & Littlefield) is to be published in December. In "American Masculine," Ferch strikes a subtle balance between American Indian and Euro-American relations, focusing on the nature of the feminine and the masculine in the contemporary American West. One example is from the story "The Miracles of Vincent van Gogh" in which he takes on the character of men caught in the crucible created by national recession, by the need to borrow, and by the reality of culpability:
"Every man borrowed. He borrowed things both common and strange, things cold like cash, or things more ultimate, like charisma and concern, or below these, and more virile — more core — anger, distance, deviance. And yet, for all their ugliness, still they borrowed love. Not merely disillusionment or desperation, they borrowed listening and quietness, loveliness. They were beautiful, they were terrible. Men borrowed compulsion, fear, disaster, desire. From the dull look in their father's eyes they borrowed the pain that resided there. Men borrowed dignity, or they borrowed shame."

Ferch's writing on forgiveness and atonement is infused with graceful understandings of race and culture. His heritage is Czech and German; his Czech grandmother married his German grandfather in New York City during World War II at the time Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.

"Their marriage," Ferch said, "filled of hard work, music, and square dancing, was a testament to reconciliation, especially when one considers the scope of the atrocities Nazi Germany perpetrated against the Czechs. Such categorical human rights transgressions also reside in the racial and cultural history of the American West. Women and men of dignity, of all races, help heal the heart of the world."

Ferch earned a Ph.D. in systems psychology from the University of Alberta, a master's degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine, and a dual Master of Fine Arts in poetry and fiction from Eastern Washington University. He has won the Subterrain Poetry Prize, the Ruminate Short Story Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize. His work has appeared in scientific journals internationally as well as in many of the nation's leading literary venues including Poetry International, McSweeney's, Narrative, and Story Quarterly.