Exeter’s writer-in-residence launches to new heights

Kim Coleman Foote wraps up year-long Bennett Fellowship with two-book deal.

By
Sarah Pruitt '95
May 19, 2022

Students, faculty and other members of the Exeter community gathered in Rockefeller Hall in the Class of 1945 Library on Tuesday evening to hear Kim Coleman Foote, the 2021-22 George Bennett Fellow, read from her work.

A writer of fiction, creative nonfiction and experimental prose, Foote said at the outset of her reading that her time at Exeter had been “bookended” by two milestones in her writing career. Soon after arriving on campus, she sent off her manuscript, Coleman Hill, a short-story collection inspired by her family's experience of the Great Migration, to agents. She received an offer of representation within two weeks, achieving a goal she had been pursuing since 2005.

“Then just yesterday, I sold two books,” Foote announced, to a round of applause. “My books will finally get published, and this is a dream that I've had since I was a little girl growing up in New Jersey.”

At the Library, Foote read from “Her Story,” a story in the collection set around 1989 in Vauxhall, New Jersey, and written from the perspective of her great-aunt. “I actually wrote it while I was here at Exeter, and it was inspired by the long and dreary and lonely and depressing and gray and cold winter that we had here,” she said. 

The spring term reading followed a well-received Assembly Foote gave in the fall, in which she read another story from the collection, a darkly comic tale she said was “inspired by true events, about when my mother and her siblings and her cousins plotted to kill their grandmother.”

During her time at Exeter, Foote has also been working on a Black female-centered novel about the transatlantic slave trade, based partially on research conducted while on a Fulbright Scholarship to Ghana. The experience also inspired her to write a third manuscript, a memoir about the black diaspora experience in Ghana.

Foote grew up hearing the family stories that inspired her story collection, and began writing her own stories around the age of 7. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Chicago State University, and her recent publication credits include Best American Short Stories, Iron Horse Literary ReviewEcotoneThe RumpusGreen Mountains Review, and Prairie Schooner. In addition to the Bennett Fellowship, Foote has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, the Center for Fiction and MacDowell. In 2022-23, she will be a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

The George Bennett Fellowship (Writer-in-Residence) at the Academy was established by Elias B.M. Kulukundis ’55 in honor of his former English teacher at the Academy, George E. Bennett. An Exeter native and member of the Class of 1923, Bennett began teaching at his alma mater in 1929 and spent 37 years in the English Department.

Now coordinated by Instructor in English Todd Hearon, the Bennett Fellowship program is one of the country’s most sought-after postgraduate writing fellowships. Awarded to a promising author who has not yet published a book, it includes a stipend for one academic year, as well as housing, meals and benefits for the author and their family. In addition to working on their own writing, the fellow is asked to make themselves available “in an informal and unofficial way” to students interested in writing, including members of English classes and student literary organizations.

Before taking questions from the audience, Foote offered her thanks for the opportunity to spend the year at Exeter. “After my MFA, I worked for about 15 years in higher ed administration … 9-5, all year round,” she said, adding that she managed to write and revise three manuscripts during that time. “I'm sincerely grateful for this opportunity to quit my job — which is tremendously scary — and for the first time in my life call myself a writer full-time.”

 

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