The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts was pleased to welcome writer Thomas Dai to Mt. San Angelo in September 2023 as the latest recipient of the Steven Petrow and Julie Petrow-Cohen LGBTQ+ Fellowship.
Established by VCCA Fellow and VCCA Board member Steven Petrow and renamed in memory of his late sister Julie Petrow-Cohen, the fellowship offers a free residency of up to two weeks to writers working in any genre who self-identify as LGBTQ+. A VCCA residency at Mt. San Angelo includes a private studio, a private bedroom, and three meals a day in a community of cross-disciplinary artists.
During his VCCA residency, Dai put finishing touches on his first book, Take My Name but Say It Slow, a memoir-in-essays forthcoming from W. W. Norton. “In particular, I focused on the collection’s final essay, which considers the space—both physical and figurative—of Asian Americans in the part of East Tennessee where I grew up, as well as in the American South as a whole,” says Dai.
Of the project, Dai says, “I think of the book as a series of interlinked essays that ponder, in different ways, the never finished question of how we each find our place in the world. I’ve spent most of my life obsessed with geography and travel, the freedom of being a different person in a different place. At the same time, I’ve often wondered what happens to a person after they lose the geographic center to their life. What are the effects of these chosen displacements? What does it mean to only really feel like oneself in the midst of constant motion? And how are questions of race, sexuality, and culture also always questions of geography and place? My book, which I’m grateful to be closer to completing with the support of VCCA and this generous fellowship, will ponder these questions and others.”
Thomas Dai is currently a PhD candidate in American Studies at Brown, where his research focuses on queer theory and literature. He has received support for his writing from Lambda Literary and the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and recent essays and criticism have appeared in Literary Hub, New England Review, Conjunctions, The Brooklyn Rail, and elsewhere.
Steven Petrow, who endowed the fellowship and is a VCCA Board member, noted that more LGBTQ+-identified writers applied in this cycle than in any other year, “which means our efforts at diversity, in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity are proving successful.” He added, “Thomas Dai’s work focused acutely on both home and identity, as well as race and sexuality. I’m pleased that he was able to use his time at VCCA so productively.”
About the Fellowship
VCCA Fellow and Board member Steven Petrow established the Steven Petrow LGBTQ+ Fellowship in 2016 to expand opportunities at VCCA for artists who self-identify as LGBTQ+. In 2021, Petrow endowed the fund, ensuring that VCCA can provide this opportunity in perpetuity. In 2023, the fellowship was renamed in memory of Steven’s late sister, Julie Petrow-Cohen. Previous recipients of the award include Cris Beam (2017), Lydia Conklin (2018), Daniel Handal (2019), Carter Sickels (2021), and Nicholas Boggs (2022).
Applications for the 2024 award are now open. The next recipient will be awarded a free two-week residency to be scheduled during VCCA’s 2024 fall scheduling period (September through December). The deadline to apply is January 15, 2024.
About Steven Petrow and Julie Petrow-Cohen
Steven Petrow and his late sister, Julie Petrow-Cohen, grew up in Forest Hills, New York, coming out to each other in their teens. Steven is an award-winning journalist and book author who is best known for his Washington Post and New York Times essays on aging, health, and civility. He’s the author of multiple books, including Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old and the forthcoming memoir, Joy To You And Me. His 2019 TED Talk (“3 Ways to Practice Civility”) has garnered nearly two million views. Much of his work over the past 15 years has taken place at VCCA; he is grateful for the time, space, and magic at Mt. San Angelo and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors.
Julie graduated from New York University and New York Law School, where she was on Law Review. She started her career as a litigator, moving on to a long and rewarding career in the securities industry during which she was named a managing director at Citigroup. Julie used her knowledge of the law as a fierce advocate for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. She volunteered in the legal clinic of New York’s LGBT Center, as a legal advocate for homeless people in New York City, and was highly involved in the fight for marriage equality. Julie, 61, died from metastatic ovarian cancer in June 2023.
Photo credit: Frankie Alduino