By: Gail Obenreder
Jenifer Adams-Mitchell grew up on the big prairie in a very small town. Even with only 999 residents, it was still the largest in the county. Her early days were filled with “simple wide-open spaces with long memories” on the Nebraska farm where her great-grandparents were homesteaders, but “I had to leave to learn how it inspires me.”
While rural life may seem uncomplicated and tight communities exist even in the biggest cities, small towns are very different places where “heartbreaks and failures are magnified under neighborly vigilance.” But what might have been a bell-jar existence actually taught Adams-Mitchell the importance of forgiveness, diplomacy and tolerance.
She’s poured those lessons and other insights from her prairie childhood into a just-completed novel Cottonwood, the work that earned her a place among this year’s DDOA Individual Artist Fellows. Not surprisingly, the work exploring expectations and reality is set in rural Nebraska.
Her parents (though retired) still own the farm where she grew up, and the whole family has always been bound to both the community and the land. Though her life now is very different from living on the open prairie, it still is intimately connected with nature. Adams-Mitchell and her husband own a seasonal sailing and kayaking business north of Fenwick Island, and this challenging work – welcome as it is – crowds out writing time for some of the year.
Excerpt from Cottonwood (2018)
Liz saw Gretchen Klimek’s shiny black Chevy Yukon parked just a few spaces away
from the spot Liz was turning into. She hit the brakes. Hannah’s birthday party was
tomorrow, though; she didn’t have time to come back later. That’s why she was here, at
Al’s Market, instead of driving to Bridgeville to the big, new Hy-Vee, where she would
never run into anyone she knew. She eased off the brakes, pulled in, and turned off the
car. Maybe Gretchen was in the café or hardware store.
Thus, Adams-Mitchell is often challenged to get back into her writing routine after a season spent outdoors. But she’s aided by the active community of Southern Delaware writers. She has found that while solitary inspiration is always welcome, “I’m my most productive and creative self when I’m in a class or a workshop.”
A literary heroine was novelist Willa Cather, and especially her masterpiece My Antonia. “The way she described the prairie, my home, made me see it with new eyes.” For inspiration, Adams-Mitchell still seeks out stories about nature (both fiction and non-fiction).
The Division’s grant will help her to set up a dedicated writing space and attend conferences, but she’s also planning to take a distraction-free writing retreat. And the grant is especially welcome just now, as Adams-Mitchell is beginning to query agents to publish Cottonwood, so “receiving this public recognition is truly a gift that gives me permission to pursue my work without guilt.”Fellowship Home