A winning way with words

At first, Chelsea Bieker thought the email was spam. Then she got a voicemail that only told her to call back. When she went back to read th email from a few months ago, she realized she’d been nominated to receive a 2018 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, an honor that supports women writers whose work contributes to culture and society with a $30,000 gift.

All nominations are strictly anonymous, so the email came as a complete surprise. An even bigger surprise arrived when Bieker became one of only six national recipients and flew to New York City to accept her award. “It’s really amazing,” she says. “It makes me feel like all of the time and sacrifice I’ve put into my passion was worth it.”

Teachers’ positive influences

Bieker grew up in a family of readers but a high school teacher spurred her to write, and she obtained a B.S. in journalism from California Polytechnic State University. There, she discovered her passion for creative writing.

Another teacher suggested she pursue a Master of Fine Arts and advised her to follow the writers she loved. “I was a real fan of Charles D’Ambrosio’s work and he taught at PSU, so I was drawn to the program,” Bieker recalls. D’Ambrosio was her thesis advisor and two other highly respected authors – Leni Zumas and Tom Bissell – formed her thesis committee. “It was a magical time,” she says.

Now, Bieker is the one influencing students. She works part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor for Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg Area Community College. She also takes on freelance projects and writes online dating profiles, which expose her to “a lot of interesting ways of being and looking at the world,” she says.

“I pick up writing inspiration all the time, but the seeds of the fictional world that I designed in graduate school carry through my creative work today.” Bieker’s first novel, Godshot, is slated for publication in 2020 and her nonfiction story collection, Cowboys and Angels, will come out in 2021.

On the right track

Bieker, who lives in Portland with her husband and two young children, recently served on a PSU panel highlighting opportunities for writing grants and scholarships. “I still feel connected to a lot of writers and faculty at PSU, and I love the program,” she says.

The Rona Jaffe Award will help Bieker with childcare costs and give her more freedom to concentrate on creative work. “There are a lot of rejections that come with being a writer,” she says. “I’m so grateful for this award. It makes me feel like I’m on the right track.”