2006-08-31 / News

Local poet receives coveted literary arts grant

By Michaela Kennedy

This past June, islander Craig Watson got the telephone call that he forgot he was hoping for.

A representative from the Rhode Island Foundation was on the other end of the line and congratulated him for winning the MacColl Johnson Fellowship.

"I didn't know what the call was about at first," Watson admitted last week. He had applied for the arts grant last November, and did not expect the honor. Watson, along with two other Rhode Island writers, will receive $25,000 over the next 12 months, and "I can use it for anything I want."

According to the R.I. foundation, the $1.2 million fellowship program created by Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson supports literature, visual arts, and music composition. Watson was one of three artists chosen out of 137 writers of fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and playwriting, according to the foundation.

Historically, poetry books do not sell in huge numbers, so the endowment comes not just as extra money for Watson, but as a public recognition of his success as an artist. "There's not a whole lot available these days for artists," Watson said as he praised the fellowship program for its generosity toward the arts. The program is one of the largest of its kind in the country.

Watson's most recently published work, "True News," came out in 2003. His next book, "Secret Histories," is "done and delivered," and due to be published in 2007. He described the poems in the book to be of epic style, with 78 smaller sections that make up a larger section. He said the book "looks backward to the Mongolian era and forward to the Apocalypse."

Watson described his writing as "a process of reduction," filling up notebooks and using what ideas come out as raw materials. He noted that his books, numbering somewhere around 10, "tend to be single-themed and contextually organized."

Watson is now researching possibilities for his next project.

He knows he would like to do some traveling with the grant money, since exploring the world's horizons inspire and broaden his ideas, he explained.

Watson started writing at the age of 14, and devoted his inclination toward poetry "exclusively since the age of 25." He works as literary manager for Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, and recently has become a producer for the company. "I like being in the literary world," he added.

Jamestown recognizes Watson for much more than the artistic prowess he brings to the island. Since moving here in 1984, Watson has created a contemporary poetry section in the Jamestown Philomenian Library and has donated not only copies of all his books, but books by many other poets as well.

"I grew up in a rural part of Connecticut where resources were limited. The Internet was not available then. I wanted to contribute to make poetry available," he said. Thanks to his contributions, the local library now has one of the best collections of North American poetry in the United States.

Watson has also served as the town's emergency management director.

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