When someone asks how long Minerva Rising has been around, I always say it started in January of 2012. But the idea was planted a year earlier.
I was sitting in my keeping room in January, reading Secrets of the Zona Rosa: How Writing (and Sisterhood) Can Change Women’s Lives. The house was quiet after the holiday rush, and I had a month to myself before the last semester of my low-residency MFA program at Goddard College started. The novel I was working on for my creative thesis was about writing and the sisterhood of women, and I hoped it would give me some insight. I had written myself into a corner, which I had no idea how to get out of. It was particularly frustrating because the first draft was due in less than sixty days.
The opening of the book captured my attention right away when Rosemary wrote about how Zona Rosa came to be:
Just before Mother’s overdose, I had been leading a writing workshop in Georgia’s state prison for women in Milledgeville. It was the same antebellum town where Mother – attending Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia State College and University) . . . had felt like a prisoner herself. Each day, driving beneath the live oaks to the prison, I would think about her, the limitations she had placed on her life, and those that had been placed there by others. . .. A week later, standing beside Mother’s bed as she lay dying, her round face finally smoothed of the lines of a lifelong tension, I felt once more how little she — like the women in the prison — had been able to tell her own truths. How little permission she had been given – whether by herself or others – to express them. Although, I didn’t know it yet, Zona Rosa was born in that moment; an unrealized passion that would lead me to spend much of the rest of my life seeking to help women like Mother and women in prisons of all kinds to achieve their dreams.
Rosemary went on to describe how the Zona Rosa writing groups had helped countless women break free from their own prisons through the written word. As I sat there reading, I realized I was living in my own prison.
We had recently moved to Atlanta and I was terribly unhappy. Though the move provided my husband an opportunity to advance in his career, it brought mine to a halt. I’d been teaching full-time at a small liberal arts college near our home, but decided not to pursue another position in Georgia so that I would be available to our daughter as she started high school in a completely new environment. While my daughter adjusted easily to our new home, I did not. I missed my friends and more importantly the significance I felt from my job. The tension between balancing my role as wife and mother with my aspirations as a writer left me feeling limited.
That day with Secrets of the Zona Rosa: How Writing (and Sisterhood) Can Change Women’s Lives sitting in my lap, I started to cry. I longed to be in a sisterhood of women writers. I desperately needed – as a writer and a woman – to be a part of a group like Zona Rosa. It felt especially disheartening to be in the same state as Rosemary’s Zona Rosa meetings but four and half hours away.
I continued to read the book and worked through several of the exorcises (as they’re called in the book) to examine myself as a writer. I finished my creative thesis and graduated from. Little did I know the idea of creating my own sisterhood of women writers was still percolating somewhere in my subconscious mind. Minerva Rising came to be exactly a year later. It was to me a printed manifestation of the Zona Rosa writing groups.
As fate would have it, a former member of Zona Rosa was published in our second issue, “Winter”, and introduced me to Rosemary at a local writing conference almost two years later. I became a member of Atlanta’s Zona Rosa group at the next meeting.
The camaraderie of the women in the group helped to propel me through yet another draft of my novel. Rosemary and the other women became a huge supporter of Minerva Rising. Each month I brought the latest issues to our meeting and the women would gobble them up like fresh pastries. Zona Rosa members from all over began to submit their work to Minerva Rising as well. Rosemary made a point to promote Minerva Rising in her work with other women. She also became the judge of our first Dare to Be contest for prose and poetry.
I consider Rosemary a mentor and friend. I didn’t realize the depths of that friendship until I saw her standing in the pew at my son’s funeral. Rosemary had not attended a funeral since she lost her only son five years earlier, but she was there for me. It was because of her insistence that I entered The William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and made the 2015 Short List for Novel-in-Progress. She has been not only a champion of my writing, but a loving friend who understands the heart of a grieving mother.
Since the beginning of this year, our staff has been pondering how to use our platform to empower more women, particularly the women who most often remain voiceless. We felt we needed to fine-tune our themes, contest and awards to move toward speaking the unspoken and encouraging social change. We wanted to use the written word for connection and healing. One way to do that is to change the focus of our novella contest and to expand its reach to include short novels and short-story collections.
As I thought about how to best encapsulate the heart of what we want our fiction contest to be, I kept coming back to Rosemary. She has worked tirelessly for more than thirty-five years to empower women to write their truths and realize their potential. Rosemary has written about the unspoken like mental health, suicide, sexuality and given voice to a woman’s right to be who she wants to be. It seems only fitting that the former novella contest become, The Rosemary Daniell Fiction Prize.
The Rosemary Daniell Fiction Prize of $1000 plus publication will be awarded for a short-story collection, novella or novel. We will be looking for stories that speak the unspoken while empowering and celebrating women. Submissions open September 29th.