Fall Campaign Spotlight: Troy Osaki
As part of our end of year fundraising campaign we are sharing stories with artists from across Washington State about their work and community. Read more and make a gift today!
This week we spoke with 2019 GAP recipient Troy Osaki. The grandson of Filipino immigrants and the great-grandson of Japanese immigrants, Troy Osaki is a poet, organizer, and attorney. Osaki is a three-time grand slam poetry champion and has earned fellowships from Kundiman, Hugo House, and Jack Straw Cultural Center. He was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2022. A 2022-2023 Critic-at-Large for Poetry Northwest, his poetry has appeared in Crazyhorse, the Margins, Muzzle Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the Seattle University School of Law where he interned at Creative Justice, an arts-based alternative to incarceration for youth in King County. He lives in Seattle, WA.
Artist Trust Roots for Us, Again & Again
In 2016, I was selected to attend my first writing retreat. It was with an organization I’ve come to love deeply, Kundiman. Since attending, I think of it whenever I’m published or receive good news about my writing like earning an award or grant.
I think of my dear friends Jane Wong and Michelle Peñaloza who encouraged me to apply as a young spoken word artist that had never thought of submitting to journals or applying for writing retreats. I think of the poets I met that I’ve come to admire as writers and phenomenal humans––Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Cathy Linh Che, Helene Achanzar, and so many others I strive to have a similar impact as the same way they had on me.
I think of the night I confessed to Joseph O. Legaspi, a co-founder of Kundiman, that I didn’t feel like I belonged because I hadn’t accomplished the same things others had––earned an MFA, published a book. At the time, Franny Choi had just sung Mulan’s Reflection on karaoke. Others were eating late-night Chinese food out of take-out containers. Joseph without delay looked up, chopsticks mid-pinch. He told me I was selected to attend the retreat because Kundiman believed in me and my writing. Kundiman, he explained, was there to help me grow as a writer in whatever way that looked for me––whether that meant going to graduate school or publishing a book or doing something else entirely.
After six years, I come back to this exchange often. How in a moment of spiraling and questioning myself as a writer and comparing myself to others I was met with a steady hand held out to keep me from falling. I was met with groundedness and certainty––belief in me when I didn’t believe in myself. In the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive support and encouragement from people and organizations that continue to believe in me.
Artist Trust, in particular, has been a pillar in helping hold me up as I work to develop my writing. In 2019, I was selected as a Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) awardee to work on my poetry manuscript, a collection that started out as a travelogue of my first trip to the Philippines, my home country. The GAP award allowed me to write and revise deeper into this project and find its core, a homecoming and a despedida, a farewell, a collection in which I write about my joy in returning home and my heartache in learning why my family fled in the first place.
This support, as massive as it was, continued to grow. In 2020 and 2021, I applied for the Artist Trust Arts Innovator Award and in both years, I was selected as a finalist but not an awardee. However, it was in these processes of applying that I met with Artist Trust staff who reviewed my applications and helped me bring to light more and more of who I was as a writer, the reasons why I write, and most importantly, for whom I write.
During this time, I became clear on how my poetics is rooted in the belief that seizing state power in the Philippines and overturning its semi-colonial and semi-feudal system is possible––that by doing so, our people can deliver a blow to imperialism and create a national economy that serves the interests of Filipino people, not foreign corporations.
This clarity has propelled me to center the question, “for whom?” It’s taught me to firmly state the answer: the people who are of the most oppressed and exploited classes in the Philippines and beyond. It’s because of this that I’ve successfully applied to other literary awards. Most recently, I was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2022, an award that’s provided me national recognition and substantial funding.
It’s this kind of continuous support that helps me feel reaffirmed in my path and provides me the energy to continue struggling for a better world for all people, especially during difficult times like the pandemic when crisis heightens and those who are already exploited begin to experience even worsening conditions.
The week the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg awardees were announced publicly I attended a dear friend’s book launch. As I was leaving the venue, the dreamy Open Books: A Poem Emporium, an Artist Trust staff person caught me on the way out. I remember their voice, sincere as the streetlight’s soft glow in the navy evening. They offered me a heartfelt congratulations, a warm hug. They added how moved they felt by my winning this prize after having watched my poetry develop over the last several years. I felt, in that moment, touched. Artist Trust has been rooting for me and continues to do so, over and over again––whether I win an award or not. I haven’t stopped thinking about this moment since then. I don’t think I’ll forget it anytime soon.
We hope you will join us in supporting Washington State artists! To make your tax-deductible donation today, visit artisttrust.org/donate.
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