Holly Van Leuven, for her proposal for a biography of Ray Bolger

A Word from BIO’s First Rowley Prize Winner, Holly Van Leuven

“The Rowley Prize deadline seems far away, and I’m sure there are at least a few talented writers out there, hemming, hawing, and fretting over an entry. In 2013, I did the same: applications were due at midnight on January 31, 2014. I hit “submit” at 10:00 PM on January 30.

“In my work thus far, nothing has been more intimidating than sitting down and crafting the proposal: not entering an archive for the very first time (The Library of Congress – the country’s biggest library – was where I began. What a start!); not approaching celebrities for interviews; not moving across the country to do research.

“I wasn’t sure what it was about writing those 20 pages that was so anxiety-inducing. When I sat down to do it last winter, I had already written a draft of my manuscript. In retrospect, I think it was the simple fact that I would have to put my delicate project – which I had imagined, incubated, and nurtured internally – into the wider world for judgment. It would no longer be about the story, or even the writing – it was about the book, that formidable and far-away goal.

“The release of our projects and their acceptance by others is what we all hope for and work towards. It is awesome, as well as terrifying, and the terror is enough to make someone put the papers back in the drawer, the goals and aspirations back in the private corners of the mind. These were actions I entertained. But at the last moment, I overcame that impulse. There were no great revelations. I just finished up my document and attached it, and life continued on.

“The attractions of the Prize need no explanation. Almost a year out from entering the inaugural Rowley application pool, and six months from receiving the Prize, I understand fully its richest asset. Beyond the financial award, the Prize provides an aspiring biographer with two of the most powerful and least quantifiable riches: momentum and validation by practitioners in the field. I can see now all the opportunities I would have missed that I never could have imagined before entering.

“I have many miles to go before I sleep, but landing on one stepping-stone allows you to see the next one in front of you. The Rowley Prize helped me to find the agent who was just right for my work, and it has introduced me to biographers who inspire me daily to continue on this difficult journey. I am honored to be a part of this community. I’m also aware that one of the most rewarding aspects of my membership in it will be in helping others where I can. To that end, I simply must say – apply!”