MFA Student Danielle Geller Receives Rona Jaffe Award

We're pleased to announce that DANIELLE GELLER, a student in the MFA program in Creative Writing, will receive a 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, which is given annually to six women writers who demonstrate excellence and promise in the early stages of their careers. Celebrating its 22nd year, the Rona Jaffe Awards have helped many women build successful writing careers by offering encouragement and financial support at a critical time. The Awards are $30,000 each and will be presented to the six recipients on September 15th in New York City.

Danielle Geller is working on a memoir called Dog Flowers. Her nominator writes, “I see her as a writer of original and compelling prose with a wrenching story to tell about the diaspora of her Navajo family. Despite the weight of history her story carries, she writes with a distanced emotional intelligence that is truly arresting.” Ms. Geller received her B.A. from Shippensburg University, her M.S. in library science from Simmons College, and is finishing her M.F.A. at the University of Arizona, Tucson. In her unpublished essay, “Annotating the First Page of the First Navajo-English Dictionary,” she masterfully uses her skills as a researcher and archivist to investigate the history of the incomplete Navajo-English Dictionary published in 1958 by weaving through it the story of her mother and her people. She plans to use this essay as the genesis for her second book. She writes, “I could begin and end here. My mother was a full-blooded Navajo woman, raised on the reservation, but she was never taught to speak her mother’s language. There was a time when most words were better left unspoken. Still, I am drawn to the nasal vowels and slushy consonants, though I feel no hope of ever learning the language. It is one thing to play dress-up, to imitate pronunciations and understanding; it is another thing to think or dream or live in a language not your own.” Ms. Geller plans to use her Writer’s Award to help supplement her income in her final year of graduate school so she can focus on these projects. She will also take several research trips to the Navajo reservation to interview her mother’s family and friends. 

Celebrated novelist Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) established The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program in 1995. It is the only national literary awards program of its kind dedicated to supporting women writers exclusively. Since the program began, the Foundation has awarded more than $2 million to emergent women writers, including several who have gone on to critical acclaim, such as Elif Batuman, Eula Biss, Lan Samantha Chang, Rivka Galchen, Rebecca Lee, ZZ Packer, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Tracy K. Smith, Mary Szybist, and Tiphanie Yanique.

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