I’ll admit to some befuddlement: When I attended the launch party for the Isle of Jura writer’s retreat a few months back, I thought the application guidelines explicitly stated that the one-month stay on the Scottish isle was only available for American fiction writers and poets, and that “writers of non-fiction,” as they put it, were not eligible. How is it, then, that the residency was awarded to Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch?
Don’t get me wrong: Anything that offers Gourevitch (right) an uncluttered month to write another book as amazing as We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families is okay by me, and if he’s taking Larissa MacFarquhar with him, well, that’s two things to look forward to. But even the press release from the Scottish Book Trust says his next project is a collaboration with Errol Morris about Abu Ghraib…so where’s the fiction? OK, a little Wiki’ing reveals that Gourevitch did in fact publish short fiction in magazines before he became an ace journalist, which might technically make him eligible for the retreat—except that the Trust’s criteria exclude “writers whose work has solely been published in magazines or pamphlets,” and as far as I can tell, Gourevitch’s short stories have never been anthologized.
Are his nonfiction books being used to qualify his uncollected short stories, then? Will he spend his month in a cottage on Jura writing a new short story, or working on the Abu Ghraib book, or (as I’d probably do if I’d been handed this prize) working my way through the Isle of Jura distillery’s output? We’ve got a call in, and hope to know more before Gourevitch’s victory reception kicks off next month’s Festival of Scottish Writing, part of New York City’s Tartan Week 2007. Again, I’m not griping—I just want to find out how the selection, as excellent as it may be, reconciles with the original guidelines.
UPDATE: When he called me back, Gourevitch said he’d actually raised the same concerns before sending in his application, and was assured by the administrators that he was a viable candidate. He believes the Trust’s original intent was never to exclude literary journalists (“though I hate to use that term,” he qualified), only “non-literary” journalists. “I don’t think they meant to exclude memoir writers, either,” he adds, which jibes with a source who knows people at the Trust, as word trickles back to us that they revised the guidelines to include literary nonfiction shortly after the launch (although that update never made it to the web page for applying to the program). And, yes, Gourevitch says, although he’s not sure how he’s going to spend that month, he wouldn’t mind working on another short story.