The Rona Jaffe Foundation has discontinued its Writers' Award program. The annual program, founded by the novelist in 1995, awarded six women writers in the early stages of their work with $30,000 grants to support them financially and to provide time to write. 2020 marked the 26th, and final, installment of the awards.
In an announcement sent in the foundation's winter newsletter last month, which is now posted on its website, the foundation explained that the decision was due in part to the "significant cost" of administering the program. "The foundation's board feels that we can use these funds resulting in even greater impact by supporting vital literary, educational, and cultural nonprofits that serve creative artists and the literary arts more comprehensively as their core missions," the announcement read. "Our mission has not changed since Rona Jaffe established the Writers’ Awards in 1995 and the foundation expanded its general giving in 2008, but we feel that at this critical time and crossroad in our nation we must strive to broaden our support further in an effort to create greater opportunities and access for as many as possible."
On Twitter this week, poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi expressed disappointment over the closing of the program—a displeasure that was echoed by a number of book business luminaries, including former Coffee House Press publisher Chris Fischbach and author Saeed Jones.
During its history, the program awarded grants to 164 women writers for a total of more than $3 million.
The Rona Jaffe Foundation is closing the prize and giving those funds to institutions to use. Which means the granting monies of Poetry are narrowed even further into the hands of a small number of Institutions/Judges. That’s not progress, folks. That’s predatory capitalism.— G. Calvocoressi (@rocketfantastic) March 22, 2021
Beth McCabe, the foundation's executive director, told PW via email that, "although the Writers’ Awards was our most public and prominently known program, the foundation has been serving emerging women writers and the literature field through other initiatives for many years." McCabe pointed to the foundation's work in underwriting sponsored fellowships for emerging women writers "at the graduate school level," providing "ongoing general operating support to several literary nonprofits" supporting "diverse, underserved, and emerging writer," and funding programming at several other literary nonprofits serving children from preschool through high school.
McCabe added: "This decision and the realignment of these resources will allow the foundation to not only continue these other important avenues of support in the literature field, but hopefully increase its ability to be more effective and impactful in these initiatives going forward."