Where I live, in Marfa, TX, there is a foundation called The Lannan Foundation. They give grants and residencies to writers. You cannot apply, they pick you. From what I’m told, you just get a letter in the mail. “Candidates for awards and fellowships are selected by an anonymous nomination process and approved by the Board of Directors. Applications and letters of inquiry are not accepted for awards or fellowships in any program.” –Lannan Foundation website
I befriended a former Lannan Writer In Residence, Le-Thuy te Diem, and she told me a friend of hers received a check in the mail for a large sum of money, a good year’s income, with a note saying in essence we like what you’re doing, keep doing it. To me this is a fairy tale and Lannan is the fairy godmother of foundations. I love the idea of anonymity, surprise, and being chosen.
In the summer of 2009 I was reading an article in my excellent local paper, The Big Bend Sentinel of Marfa, TX, about the local connections of two recent winners of the MacArthur Genius Award. These two people were the painter Rackstraw Downes and the writer Deborah Eisenberg. I had recently read Deborah Eisenberg’s book of short stories All Around Atlantis and loved it. Reading about these talented and accomplished people I became filled with melancholy.
It suddenly hit me I will never win a MacArthur Genius Award.
This may not be true. I like to think that I might get a Genius Award some day. Regardless, it depressed me at the time. The more I thought about it, about the Nobels and the Guggenheims and all those prestigious marks of recognition that tell you and everyone else you’ve made it, the more glum I became. I like to think of myself as someone who really just aims for the respect of my friends and peers, but I still have this desire for recognition. For a Genius Award. What is that? Why do I hold out hope that one day I might just win a Major Award? It is a little embarrassing to admit this, but I want an award.
A few months later I was driving from San Francisco to Joshua Tree with my husband Peter and our friend Sarah Fontaine and we got to talking about this dilemma. It was still bothering me, the desire for external recognition, the embarrassing wish for fame. Sarah said that she would give me an award, which was very nice of her and did make me feel better. Peter suggested that we just start our own Foundation. After all, why does the grant-giving and award-giving power have to be locked in the safes of wealthy institutions? Who says they get to give all the grants? They just establish themselves and start giving grants, so why not us? Right there in the van, we decided to establish Tiny Foundation. We will give grants to people we think are doing great things. The amount is based on our personal finances and what feels like kind of a lot of money but not really too much, and that amount is $50.
Around New Years we were having dinner with our friends Buck & Camp and told them about the plans for Tiny Foundation. They got excited and said that they wanted to give Tiny Grants too. So then the idea came up that maybe this is could be a grassroots movement encouraging personal direct philanthropy. Other people could start giving their own Tiny Grants and we could track all this activity and keep a record of the people honored. You could call it a gift, but I prefer grant.
And one day, who knows? Maybe I’ll win an award for this.
We encourage you to give your own Tiny Grants. Anyone can.