Monday, October 5, 2015

When a Writer Faces a True Life Crisis

Recently, I have been trying to help a dear friend, who’s dealing with major chronic illness, the results of unhealed traumatic brain injury, vision problems, flood and tornado damage to her farm and house, and a right hand where a bone has come completely unmoored, requiring hand surgery. This woman, almost 70, is a major poet and novelist. In fact, her most famous and successful novel is often included on lists of Best Novels of the 20th Century. (The problem is that she was robbed of all royalties for this book that’s just been issued in a new edition after twenty printings. Never saw a dime, was told it just wasn’t selling, and now has a lawyer from the Authors Guild working on trying to recover some of her stolen monies.)

My friend struggles to deal with all these issues, including massive amounts of pain, as she lives a financially precarious life based on reading and workshop fees and visiting writer gigs. She lost her tenured professorship years ago when she suffered TBI, and they wouldn’t allow her time for rehabilitation. She has recovered her ability to write beautifully, to teach, to give talks and readings, but the executive ability of her brain is permanently damaged, meaning she can’t organize her papers, she loses track of dates and commitments, and she basically can’t find what she needs when she needs it. And now the vision problem and the need for surgery on her hand have struck.

As part of what I’ve been doing to help her, other than to be a shoulder to cry on long distance, I have been researching sources of help for writers in real crisis like this. And I have discovered that there are a number of resources out there. I’ve sent them to her and am now helping her to apply for some financial aid to hire someone to deal with the tornado and flood damage and to hire a college student to help her organize her papers, set up a filing system, coordinate her calendar, and help her with typing on the new novel she’s been trying so hard to finish during all this.

It made me think about the knife edge many of us live on as writers. I’d have been in her situation recently when going through cancer treatments and surgeries while already dealing with chronic, disabling illness—if I hadn’t had my dear, supportive, gainfully employed husband but had been all alone like her. So I thought I’d post the resources for writers in emergency situations here for all our readers. Maybe save it for a rainy day—because you never know when you might be facing similar difficulties. - This is the granddaddy of all emergency grants to writers. PEN realized how vulnerable writers could be many, many years ago and set up this fund, which has grown through the years and allowed them to help hundreds of writers in emergency situations. - This is a foundation funded by Stephen King after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver and lost years of work to surgeries and rehabilitation. King, of course, was a millionaire, so it wasn’t a financial hardship for him, but he came from poverty and thought about what this would have done to him when he was starting out and hadn’t had a bestseller yet. This fund not only provides a sum up front for emergencies, but can provide up to $2,000/month for six or more months while someone is going through a major situation and trying to get back on her/his feet. Yay, Stephen King!
Change, Inc.
(212) 473-3742
Change, Inc. provides one-time emergency grants of up to $1,000 to artists of any discipline. Applicants must be professional artists who can demonstrate need. Each applicant must submit a detailed letter describing the financial emergency, copies of outstanding bills, medical fee estimates and current financial statements, along with a career resume, reviews, exhibition or performance announcements, and two letters of reference from someone in affiliated field. For more information, write to:
Change Emergency Funds
Change, Inc.
P.O. Box 54
Captiva, FL 33924
Carnegie Fund for Authors
The Carnegie Fund offers grants to published writers who are in need due to an emergency, whether medical or otherwise. The fund does not award grants for work projects.
Individuals wishing to apply can write to the following address to request an application:
Carnegie Fund for Authors
Post Office Box 409
Lenox Hill Station
New York, NY 10021

Author’s League Fund
31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Fund offers interest-free loans of between $2,000 and $3,000 to writers with severe medical/health-related problems and other serious misfortunes. No membership necessary. Application and details available on web site:  Most supportive of older authors
American Poets Fund- Emergency Funds
The Academy of American Poets
584 Broadway Suite 1208
New York, NY 10012
The fund assists poets of demonstrated ability who are in a state of urgent financial need. Grants cannot be used to promote or otherwise enhance literary talent or reputation, and applications are not accepted. Academy Chancellors, Fellows, and prize winners must bring the circumstances of qualifying poets to the attention of the American Poets Fund committee by sending a letter of nomination, including specifics about the nominee's current financial situation, to the Executive Director of the Academy. For more information, please visit: 
I hope none of our readers or bloggers ever need these resources, but even then, one of our friends might, so I’d suggest you save this information somewhere permanent. Often people like my friend will struggle alone in silence through heartbreaking circumstances because they have no idea that such help exists.


Kait said...

What a great list, and kudos to you for reaching out to your friend. I hope that things manage to turn around for her.

It is wonderful to know that there are resources available to writers. Making one's way in the arts has never been an easy (or generally lucrative) position and artists have always been among the most vulnerable of all professionals.

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks for compiling the list of resources, Linda. Perhaps someone in need will stumble across the blog and be helped. It's nice to know some people have thought ahead in ways to assist fellow authors.

~ Jim

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

a moving story and helpful list of resources. You're a good friend.

E. B. Davis said...

Linda--what a wonderful list of resources! You've done your homework, which will help writers everywhere, but the list also proves your friendship to this writer more than sympathy ever could. Those who can look at someone's disastrous situation, take action, and get help without being paralyzed astound me. I hope your friend gets the help she needs to live another day and write another book.

Shari Randall said...

Thank you for sharing this and many, many prayers for your friend as she walks her difficult path. She is fortunate to have you by her side.

Warren Bull said...

I hope your friend gets the help she needs. I also know writers who live on the edge of disaster. Thank you for compiling this list. It is needed.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kait,yes, the artist's life has never been an easy or prosperous one. Especially not in the U.S., where writers, in particular, are not highly valued.

Jim, that's my hope also--that someone in need will see this blog and be able to access some help.

Margaret, my friend's story is not just moving, but infuriating. To find that she's lived in disability and poverty while her publishers (a major NY house) have kept all her royalties as they made money hand over fist from her most famous book (which is used in many classes nationwide) makes me see red.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Elaine, thanks. I was surprised to learn how much help was out there. Even more resources exist, but they only serve writers in certain geographic areas, etc., so wouldn't apply to my friend. These resources here apply across the boards.

Shari, I consider this woman one of America's literary treasures--and I think many others would agree. I've seen other situations like hers of writers of real accomplishment who live out their last years in poverty. And frankly, I think it says something awful about us as a society.

Warren, I hope these resources will be a help to your writer friends.

Gloria Alden said...

How wonderful, that you're helping your friend, and other writers with this list.I hope that she will soon be on the road to recovery and gets help from at least one of the sources you listed.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, I hope this list will enable any of our readers who are facing life emergencies to find some help to tide them over the crisis.

KM Rockwood said...

With your assistance, and the attorney who's looking into the royalty situation, I hope your friend is able to establish a stable, productive existence.

In the US,we seem to feel that people are on their own when misfortune strikes. Our medical system is a good example of that. Corporations make money while many people go bankrupt.

I just got a prescription for a specialty medication, and when I looked it up, a month's supply is $52,404.17, and it is not covered by my insurance. I have contacted the prescribing office, and told them I need an alternative. I hope they have some ideas!

My beloved older sister died of breast cancer about a year ago, and had to work way past when she would have retired because the treatments that kept her alive were not covered by Medicare, so she had to maintain her private insurance. She lived over a decade longer than had originally been predicted, but she had to work until the bitter end.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, you are so right. For some reason, our country has taken a turn toward the Scrooge McDuck sense of community. My sympathies for your sister's loss. I know exactly what you're talking about there. I qualify for Medicare, but I stay on my younger husband's private insurance, which keeps getting worse and worse. Since my own battle with breast cancer began over a year ago, we've gone completely into debt, trying to keep up with the medical treatments and costs of specialty medicines that insurance companies don't want to pay for. It's no surprise to me that so many millions of Americans have gone into medical bankruptcy, even with insurance. All it takes is one good medical hit to wipe out savings and leave you in a truly precarious state. I know. My husband's major heart attack and surgery had done that to us before my cancer kicked in.

People who are not millionaires but are comfortable should realize that things can change on them very fast. A pension fund gets robbed. A university changes from a good insurance plan to "self-insurance." A serious illness that requires medicine as expensive as that you were prescribed that may have no alternative. Back-to-back huge health hits, as with my husband and me. Any and all of these can hit and wipe out a comfortable savings account and retirement funds.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Only you, who juggles a million things, would find the time and the resources to help so many others. Kudos. Great blog post.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Oh, Debra, that's very kind of you, but all of us are busy, and I believe that, if you or any of my blog mates happened to be friends with this writer or anyone like her, you would also do this or something even more helpful.