Jenifer Adams-Mitchell spends much of her time plying Delaware’s coastal waters in a kayak, and helping others to experience the same thing.
For the past year or so, however, at least in her mind, the co-owner of Coastal Kayak has been in her native Nebraska.
Her first novel, a fictional work called “Cottonwood,” is still in search of a publisher. But Adams-Mitchell now has a new line to add to her submission letters: award-winning writer.
Along with 19 other writers, composers, musicians, folk and visual artists, she has been awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship Grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts. Adams-Mitchell won a $3,000 Emerging Professional Award. Two other categories are included in the grants: Masters Award, which carries with it a $10,000 prize, and the Established Professional Award, which carries a $6,000 prize.
Out-of-state artists reviewed the work of 136 artists this year, considering the demonstrated creativity of each artist, as well as the skill in they show in their respective art forms.
Mitchell-Adams, who lives near Camp Barnes near Bethany Beach, said she has been writing fiction for 25 or 30 years. In college at Nebraska Wesleyan University, she said, she majored in business and Spanish.
“I never really thought about writing” as a career, she said. “But I love it.”
Her first journey into writing came through an actual journey — when she traveled to Costa Rica after for volunteer work, she wrote back to her hometown newspaper about her experiences abroad.
These days, in addition to running Coastal Kayak in the summer, Adams-Mitchell keeps a blog in which she showcases her writing and that of other members of the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild, which she has been involved with since she and her husband, Mitch Mitchell, moved to Delaware.
She credits the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild with helping her to hone her craft and gain confidence in her skills as a fiction writer.
“They are an unbelievable group of people,” Adams-Mitchell said. She also had high praise for Mary Beth Fisher of the Rehoboth-based writers’ group. “She’s a phenomenal teacher,” she said.
“You do it alone,” Adams-Mitchell said of her craft, “but it helps to have other people that understand and are going through what you’re going through.”
Confidence, Adams-Mitchell said, comes hard, particularly once the process of submitting a work for publication begins.
“Every rejection takes a little bit out of you,” she said.
Set in rural Nebraska, “Cottonwood” follows a family — a wife, a husband and a daughter, who return to the wife’s hometown. As the story progresses, a former boyfriend tries to rekindle a relationship with the wife. Then, he becomes romantically interested in the daughter.
Adams-Mitchell said she finds a lot of inspiration for her writing in nature, and that her early years in Nebraska gave her a good base for the setting of her book. Holding to that old writerly advice, “Write what you know,” Adams-Mitchell said she thinks her next novel will be about a kayak guide.
She said she was drawn to the long form of a novel over short stories because, “I ramble. Trying to write a short story is hard.”
The Division of the Arts fellowship, Adams-Mitchell said, gives her confidence another boost.
“To have them accept my work and appreciate it means a lot,” she said, adding that it will help her keep moving forward to get her book published.
“You think when you finish the novel the hard part is done,” she said. “But it’s just started.”
Paul Weagraff, director of Delaware Division of the Arts, said, “Individual Artist Fellowship grants provide the recognition and exposure that artists need to successfully promote their work. … The financial award allows them to pursue advanced training, purchase equipment and materials, or fulfill other needs to advance their careers.”
The work of the fellows will be featured in a group exhibition, “Award Winners XIX,” at the Biggs Museum, from June 7 to July 21. Selections from the exhibit will travel to CAMP Rehoboth in August and early September, and then to the Cab Calloway School of the Arts during September and October.
As a requirement of the grant, Adams-Mitchell will also do a reading of her work at a location in the community. That will probably be in the fall, she said, after her kayaking season winds down.
By Kerin Magill