Memoirist Michelle Bowdler Wins National Grant

memoirist Michelle Bowdler

Michelle Bowdler

Memoirist risked rejection and won (on her very first try)

Memoirist Michelle Bowdler applied for the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Inc. in January. The fund gives encouragement and grants to feminists in the arts—both writers and visual artists. It grants $500-$1,500 to 20 women biannually.

After she applied, Bowdler did what many of us writers do when we’ve put heart and soul into an application for a fellowship, a residency or a pitch. She hit refresh on her inbox every two seconds.

Bowdler, who works as a health care administrator in higher education, wrapped up GrubStreet’s Memoir Incubator in May. She credits its instructor, memoirist Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich for introducing her to the world of fellowship opportunities and encouraging her to apply.

“Alexandria told me, ‘You’ll never know if you don’t try,'” says Bowdler, whose memoir, The Idea of Order, looks at the crime of rape through a social justice lens. She describes her own activism after learning of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in warehouses and police departments around the country decades after the crimes occurred, and how her efforts led her to revisit her own unsolved crime. Applying for the grant was a huge commitment to believing in herself, since, she says, her memoir is very personal and the material is sometimes difficult to write.

“It’s hard to risk rejection when the topic is so deeply personal,” says the memoirist.

One afternoon in May, while checking email during a work meeting, Bowdler read, “Congratulations!” The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Inc. had granted her a $1,000 award. Alexandria was the first person she texted to share the news.

“Receiving the Deming award was thrilling and humbling for me,” says Bowdler as she recounted the awed reactions of a group of older social activists she knew professionally who knew Barbara Deming’s work first hand.

These days, Bowdler is writing essays while she revises her memoir. A sexual assault survivor, she recently contributed an essay to the anthology Resist: Women Speaking Truth to Power in the Age of Trump. McFarland Press will publish the anthology in early 2018. The essay is about sexual assault policy and what it means to have a president who acknowledged sexually assaulting women. Alexandria alerted her to the opportunity during Bowdler’s Incubator year, Bowdler pitched two ideas to the editors, and they requested two essays.

She also contributed an essay about LGBTQ rights, which she co-wrote with her 18-year-old daughter. Bowdler has also published several articles that have helped her build a platform for her memoir-in-progress. In 2016, her article “Why Donald Trump’s Words Matter,” appeared in Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column. A Path Appears, a blog sponsored by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn, published her post “The Case for Clearing the Rape Kit Backlog” in 2015, the same year The Boston Globe published a story about her, After night of terror, years of anguish, she finds meaning.

Bowdler hopes to use her grant for an unfunded residency, to take another GrubStreet course or toward anything that furthers her work on her memoir.