Rockvale “Believe” Fellowship

A New Fellowship Opportunity for Creative Non-Fiction Writers


The Personal Story Behind the Fellowship – by RWC’s Director, Sandy Coomer:

On January 6, 2020, at 12:45 p.m., my mother died. During those last moments, I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed in my life. It was not for miraculous healing. I prayed my mother would let go of her hold on life, that her body would relax, her breath would still. I prayed for her to turn away from the world of flesh, to leave the realm of fear and pain. She did. The pain that remained was mine. 

My mother’s illness (Central Nervous System Lymphoma) was brief but it was vicious, and I was not prepared for how quickly her death came. I still haven’t processed the experience, for, on the day she died, my husband received his own cancer diagnosis. The alternate reality I live in today does not allow me to grieve. It only directs my mind to the immediate, to what is required. Doctor’s appointments. Chemotherapy. Scans. Repeat. In between, I drive to College Grove and greet writers. I read applications. I see to the maintenance of four buildings. I pay the bills. 

Illness is a huge wave that has, without warning, crashed upon my head. Maybe that’s the way it is for everyone – unexpected, unanswerable – but it has made me aware of things I might have missed otherwise. The parallel lines of beauty and suffering astound me. The kindness from friends, even acquaintances, blesses me. I’m learning in intimate ways how frail the body is but also how indomitable the spirit.

I’m learning that the act of writing heals. Intuitively, I knew this, but now I’m drawn to this truth in new ways. I want to understand it better. I want to see it in action. I’ve also been thinking about a way to honor my mother, who was herself a writer, a memoirist, although she never claimed that title (but I have pages and pages of her writing as proof!) All these thoughts have been spinning in my mind, evolving into a fellowship for creative non-fiction writers (memoirists, essayists, literary journalists) who have had a experience with serious illness and are writing about its impact on life, family, and relationships. Therefore, I’d like to announce the

Rockvale “Believe” Fellowship

for Creative Non-Fiction Writers who are Writing about Serious Illness

– In memory of Deloris Patricia Campbell Spencer

The recipient of this Fellowship receives a 2-week residency at Rockvale Writers’ Colony and a small stipend for food and travel. Guidelines and requirements follow. Applications will be accepted until December 31, 2020.


The Writing:

  • The Rockvale “Believe” Fellowship is open to writers of Creative Nonfiction. We define CNF as memoir, personal and lyric essay, and literary journalism.
  • The writing must present serious illness as its main theme and explore the impact illness has on life and relationships. A personal connection is paramount. We put no limitations on the definition of serious illness.
  • The writing, as a whole, should not be previously published. We will consider work in which small portions (such as individual essays in a book of essays) are published. The writer should disclose this information in the application. 

The Application:

  • The application fee is $30. This is non-refundable.
  • The application requires a description of the writing, an excerpt, and a paragraph detailing how the fellowship would aid the writer. 
  • Fellowship applications are accepted between March 1 and December 31, 2020.

The Prize:

  • The recipient of this fellowship will receive a 2-week writer’s residency at Rockvale Writers’ Colony in College Grove, TN. The residency must be completed before December 1, 2022.
  • A small stipend of $200 will be given to the fellowship recipient upon arrival at the colony to compensate for travel and food. Expenses beyond $200 are the responsibility of the writer.

The Details:

  • All rules and policies of Rockvale Writers’ Colony are in effect during this fellowship. The recipient will be expected to sign the writer’s contract before arrival. The recipient should familiarize themselves with RWC (our setting, our mission, and the way residencies work) by carefully reading our website. We strongly advise reading everything under the “Residencies” tab, especially “Information” and “FAQ’s”.
  • Writers not selected for the fellowship will have the option of scheduling a residency at the usual RWC rates.

Please email Sandy at sandy.rockvale@gmail.com with any questions.