Sponsored Fellowships: Tom Piazza

Sometimes a shorter residency period can be as productive as a longer one. Maybe even more so. The compression of a limited time period in which to work can sharpen one's focus, harness and channel creative energy. This was the case for Tom Piazza when he was in residency for only ten days in March 2006, following a fiction workshop he was teaching at Sweet Briar College.

A well-known novelist, music writer and resident of New Orleans, Tom had just gone through the chaos of Hurricane Katrina seven months earlier. Immediately following the storm, in just five weeks while displaced and living in Missouri, he wrote Why New Orleans Matters. His publisher, HarperCollins, brought the book out in November 2005, and it received the 2006 Humanities Book of the Year Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Subsequently, Tom was on the road teaching workshops and promoting his book. When he wasn’t traveling, he was in New Orleans coming to grips with the logistical and emotional fallout from Katrina.

"That residency in March was the first time I had a chance to stop and catch my breath after the madness that followed the storm," says Tom, author of eight books, including the Faulkner Award-winning novel My Cold War.

While at the VCCA for that period, in a residency funded by the Gulf Hurricane Victims Fund--an effort to support Fellows affected by the 2005 storms--Tom conceived a novel about the hurricane experience. He wrote approximately 10,000 words during his ten-day residency and HarperCollins bought the novel based on that work.

"It was one of the most concentrated and productive stretches of writing that I've had," says Tom. "VCCA is almost always a haven from whatever else is going on in your life. It gives artists time, space and freedom to concentrate on what they are doing. This is useful no matter what your life looks like. Time at VCCA is a great gift."

Since Tom's first residency at the VCCA in 1999, he has won numerous awards for his writing, including a Grammy Award in 2004 for his album notes to "Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey." He is also the three-time winner of the prestigious ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing, most recently in 2006 for his book Understanding Jazz, commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center.