Harvard Review Editor Christina Thompson has been awarded a Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Thompson was one of 42 nonfiction and prose writers chosen from an applicant pool of about 1,000. The award carries a $25,000 stipend.
Thompson’s work-in-progress explores the history of Polynesian people and how they came to inhabit the Pacific region. Thompson, who grew up in Boston, became enamored with the area while studying in Australia on a graduate school fellowship. She enrolled as a doctoral student at the University of Melbourne and, on a trip to New Zealand, met Seven, a Maori man who would become her husband. Their relationship is prominently featured in her book, “Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All,” a historical memoir that inspects interactions between Westerners and Maoris.
“This new project takes off from a chapter in that book called ‘Hawaiki,’ and goes back in time to recount the ancient Polynesian colonization of remote Oceania,” said Thompson.
Thompson received a grant from the Literature Board of Australia in November — more funding that, along with the award from the NEA, will enable her to travel alongside her husband and sons to conduct research in far-flung places like Vanuatu, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, and French Polynesia. “We’re hoping to visit a couple of archaeological sites and get to some of the more out-of-the-way islands, including an atoll or two.”
“The NEA fellowship is a very lucky break for me because I’ve been wanting to write this book for a few years,” said Thompson. “I can do a large part of the background research right here in Widener [Library], but when it comes to getting the feeling of the places — the color of the sky, the feel of the air, the temperature of the water — there is really no substitute for getting your feet in the sand.”
Thompson’s work has appeared widely in publications such as Vogue, American Scholar, the Journal of Pacific History, and Australian Literary Studies, and in the 1999, 2000, and 2006 editions of Best Australian Essays. She has been the editor of Harvard Review since 2000, and teaches creative writing courses at Harvard Extension School, where she won the James E. Conway Excellence in Teaching Writing Award in 2008.