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All day, every day, Ramona Long listens. She reads. She absorbs gossip. She catches the feathers of drifting conversations. She nurtures family lore.
From these, Long takes. And then, like so many writers of fiction, she alters, she adds, she invents.
She grew up in the bilingual household of a French-Catholic family in southern Louisiana.
“But at that time,” says Long, of Newark, “it was not considered a good thing to teach your children French. You needed to learn English to be able to get into college, to move on, and so on.
“So I think my generation is probably the last generation where the Cajun French language was not taught to us. I have nieces and nephews and cousins who are living there who are learning French in school, which I think is fantastic.”
While at college, Long worked to lose her accent. These days, as long as you’re not meeting her in Louisiana, you’d have a tough time identifying her geographical roots.
Louisiana, however, is where she intends to return as she researches and fictionalizes her hometown. The Division’s grant, Long says, will help make that possible.
She is having one of her headaches.
The throbbing starts in the morning, so early it is still dark, as Amelia stands at the long wooden table piled with ice and raw shrimp. She works as she always does, methodically removing shells in three slick movements: yank off head, slice underbelly with thumbnail, squeeze the tail. If it’s done right—and she always does it right, she’s been peeling since she was a child—the cold body pops out, slimy smooth and naked.
“People ask writers, ‘What do you have to do if you want to become a good writer?’ And most people say, ‘You read,'” she says. “Well sure, that’s true, but you really have to study what you read, how other people do it.”
Her current project is a collection of short stories—”Fence Line,” which Long submitted with her application for the fellowship, is the first—drawn from the lives of her widowed grandmother and her grandmother’s children. It reveals their crisscrossing tales with a focus on each character’s perspective.
“My grandmother had seven children,” she says, “but I had to kill off an aunt and uncle.”
She also wanted outside voices, so she added a teacher and a storeowner. Six stories, she says, wouldn’t be enough. She wants 10.
“I wanted to write about the loss of the culture,” Long says. “I really wanted to write about what I consider is a unique, underserved part of my family history.”
Long, who lives in Newark, was awarded a 2009 Individual Artist Fellowship as an Established Professional from the Delaware Division of the Arts in the Literature-Fiction category.
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