Artist Profile Series: Patrick Parr
Patrick Parr of Bellevue is a writer and ESL teacher with experiences teaching in Japan and Switzerland. In 2013, he received a Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) award which funded him to travel to Japan to conduct research for a book project.
Currently based in Yokohama, Japan, Patrick reached out to Artist Trust to let us know about his recently released book The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age. “The book took me five years to complete, and it all started in the Bellevue Public Library,” he shared. The Seminarian gives readers a view of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. that varies greatly from the static version of the man perpetuated by ubiquitously played sound clips from his 1963 “I have a Dream” speech.
Could you tell us more about The Seminarian?
Oh, where to start… I’d say that Publisher’s Weekly said it best when they described the book as “a true-life bildungsroman.” In my book, I describe [Dr. King’s] life from the age of 19-22, when he entered seminary as a quiet ‘rookie preacher’ lacking confidence, eventually becoming a confident student body president in command of his oratorical skills.
How has funding from the 2013 GAP and 2014 Fellowship impacted your career as an artist?
The GAP was a shock, and it gave me newfound confidence to pursue bigger projects. But the Fellowship left me in tears… good tears. At that time, money was incredibly tight, and I’d hit a barrier with my ‘King book’. In order to get the information I needed, I needed to fly to Pennsylvania and stay for a week. The Fellowship gave me a chance to do that, and what I discovered changed the book entirely. As I say in my book, Artist Trust’s support allowed me to finish the book.
What advice do you have for artists applying for grants and awards?
Well, I can only speak from a writer’s POV, but the key is to publish! I know that sounds easier said than done, but you need to be okay with not making any money at first. When AT awarded me the fellowship, I’d made, quite literally, 377 dollars for my writing, but I’d been published in over ten different magazines, newspapers and journals.
If you are a writer just starting out or perhaps feel you keep hitting a wall, I would recommend pushing away that fantasy of having your first story published in the New Yorker. Find a respectable online mag/journal, via Duotrope perhaps, and start building your credits up like that.
I have four short stories published at Every Day Fiction, and they pay 3 dollars. BULL: Men’s Fiction gave me two free print copies and leather coasters. But I worked with several great editors, and got used to feedback from commenters (and good ol’ trolls, of course).
So if you want grants and awards, you need credits. For me, my career has gone like this: short story publications, grants, book publisher, and now, a literary agent who is getting my stuff to the bigger venues. That last sentence took twenty years, however. There are exceptions, but most writers have to go the ‘Andy Dufresne with a small rock hammer’ route.
What projects are you currently working on?
Ooh, I wish I could tell you, but my agent is poised to start selling the proposal in the next few months. It’s a big one, though. Right now, however, The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age is my top priority.
Patrick has written extensively about Dr. King, with articles published in magazines and newspapers including Seattle Magazine, Boom California, the Atlantic, Politico, and the Japan Times. He also worked as a historical consultant for the New Jersey Historical Commission and was involved in the process for nominating Martin Luther King Jr. landmarks. The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age is available for purchase on Amazon. To learn more about Patrick, visit his website.