Barb Johnson is Fifth Recipient of $50,000 Gift of Freedom
Placitas, NM. (AROHO) A Room of Her Own Foundation’s fifth $50,000 Gift of Freedom is awarded to Barb Johnson, an emerging writer from New Orleans, Louisiana.
Barb Johnson worked for more than twenty years as a carpenter before she entered the MFA program at The University of New Orleans in 2004. “The very first practical step I took in the pursuit of my writing,” she said, “was to put down the hammer and pick up a laptop. The only way to quit being a carpenter is to quit dressing like one and carrying woodworking tools.”
Soon after entering the writing program, though, Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out Johnson’s carpentry business altogether. For a while after that, she lived on her apartment’s balcony in the devastated city, where she continued to write. Even with this catastrophic interruption, Johnson’s stories garnered a number of awards while she was in school, and by the time she graduated in May of 2008, she’d signed a book contract with Harper Collins.
In her Gift of Freedom application, a unique and intensive process that asks women to consider their relationship to their work, Johnson reflected on the power and the “why” of writing: “We write to say, You are not alone. We write the thing that can’t be said…the thing that will be a bright moment for a stranger, the way another’s writing was a bright moment for us. …We pass what we have to those who are hungry for it because we, ourselves, have been hungry.”
Her collection of award-winning stories, More of This World, or Maybe Another, a group of closely-linked tales, will be released by Harper Collins in the fall of 2009. Although the stories are set along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans, there is no mention of Hurricane Katrina in the book. When asked if this was a deliberate choice, Johnson said, “Heck, yeah. Katrina took what she took, but I’m not letting her near my imagination. Not for a long, long time.”
Each Gift of Freedom recipient is funded for two years so that she can complete a specific creative project. Johnson will use her two years under the grant to write a novel entitled St. Luis of Palmyra, which picks up where the short story collection leaves off.
2004 Gift of Freedom recipient, Meredith Hall, who spent her time under the grant writing the New York Times bestselling memoir, Without a Map (Beacon Press, 2007), described Johnson as a woman whose spirit and talent make her “exactly the sort of woman A Room of Her Own seeks to support, a gifted woman struggling to make writing the center of her days.”
A Room of Her Own Foundation (AROHO), is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed in 2000 to support and advance the work of women in the literary and artistic marketplace. It has expended more than $600,000 on behalf of creative women through its Gift of Freedom Awards, Orlando Prizes, scholarships, retreats, public readings, Day Conferences, Book Club, and web-based resource center.