The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) welcomed Alexandra Viets to Mt. San Angelo in the spring of 2023 as the inaugural recipient of the Barbara Crooker Caregiving Fellowship, a fully-funded residency at VCCA established to support artists in any discipline who are also caregivers to an ill or disabled family member.
Viets is a writer/screenwriter and journalist whose work focuses on women and dislocation. During her time at VCCA, Viets worked on a novel called Otto, which she describes as an outgrowth of a memoir she wrote about the life of her mother.
“Otto is the story of a former German prisoner of war who works as a tailor for a Polish family living in Benghazi in 1946,” says Viets. “From behind his sewing machine in an old villa, he remakes not only his own life but the lives of the Polish family he works for. Otto is a love story that tracks the independence movements occurring in North Africa at the time. Questions of belonging and betrayal resurface and reconfigure against a landscape struggling to be reborn.”
Approaching the end of her time at VCCA, Viets shared, “As the Barbara Crooker Caregiving Fellow, these precious weeks have allowed me the time and space to look after myself, to renew a conversation with the history I was born into, and to listen for the beginning of new work. In my studio, W4, tucked away up a short flight of steps and flooded with light, there was a 3×5 card left on the bulletin board, ‘Trust the Process.’ I understood this to be a sign, and I have written with that motto in mind — looking back at the card whenever I felt lost.”
“The steady rhythm of the days, the quiet embrace of the fields, the profusion of languages — music, visual art, poetry, birdsong — and the rich expanse of conversation at the dinner table, outside the barn, in the library, along the paths, all this has fed me,” says Viets.
The Barbara Crooker Caregiving Fellowship provides a free VCCA residency of up to two weeks with flexible scheduling. The endowed fellowship was generously established by poet Barbara Crooker who first came to VCCA as a Fellow in 1990. Crooker says, “In ‘real life,’ I’m the caregiver of my son, who has autism, and without VCCA, I’d never have written anything, let alone nine books.”
Currently accepting applications for Winter 2024, the award is open to writers, visual artists, and composers who are caregivers to an ill or disabled spouse, child, or other family member. The VCCA residency at Mt. San Angelo includes a private bedroom with en-suite bath, a private studio, and three prepared meals a day.
Images courtesy of Alexandra Viets.