Susannah Strong awarded $25,000 RI Foundation fellowship
Graphic novelist Susannah Strong, assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History, has been awarded a $25,000 Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Award from the Rhode Island Foundation. Selected from among 200 applicants, she is one of three recipients of what is considered to be one of the largest no-strings-attached awards available to writers in the United States.
Strong teaches all levels of drawing and illustration at Salve Regina, as well as a course called Advanced Studio Concepts that focuses on the development of site-specific installation work across campus. She also teaches a freshman writing seminar on comics and sequential art called The American Graphic Narrative Experience.
She says she was stunned when she learned of the award. “I am thrilled that the RI Foundation shares the belief that sequential art – graphic novels, comics and the like – holds a venerable and lasting place in the literary arts.”
Strong describes her background and training as an artist as varied, encompassing drawing, installation art and sequential art. “I am able to teach classes in all of these areas, and I find that to be both challenging and rewarding,” she says. “Additionally, the small student to teacher ratio enables me to develop more meaningful relationships with students. I continue to be inspired by the hard work and passionate commitment of our art majors.”
As a result of the MacColl Johnson Fellowship, Strong has been given a course load reduction this fall, giving her more time and energy to pursue her creative work.
“This fellowship means I will be able to complete a graphic novel that I have been working on over the past four years,” she says. “My time is parsed out across teaching full time, raising three young children and creating artistic work. So being able to recalibrate my busy life in order to focus time and energy on this project is an opportunity I meet with tremendous gratitude and gravitas. I will also be able to devote time and energy to finding a publisher for my work.”
Strong is in the process of completing her graphic novel, “Moth,” which tells the story of twin girls who come of age through a series of tragic events, including the accidental death of their parents and their subsequent separation from one another. The girls are forced to confront and resolve their crippling loss, and the role they played in it, on their own. The story ends with the twins being reunited, many years later, in a most unexpected way.
“I am in the emergent stages of finding my voice in this medium,” Strong says. “Fortunately, this is the nature of the fellowship’s intention – to allow emerging creatives to develop and strengthen their work. The timing could not have been better in that regard. I have the feeling that where I end up in this novel might not look anything like where I currently sit with it. I am deeply grateful for the opportunities of time, focus, and growth that this fellowship will provide.”
Strong has spent many years as a visual artist, creating sculptural and installation work in galleries, museums and alternate spaces. One of her recent projects, enclosed rooms she built within gallery space at Salve Regina, was part of an installation to explore the history of the Sisters of Mercy.
One of her rooms contained a six foot high, rectangular trough of peat, topped with live sod. The effect upon opening the door and entering was one of walking into one’s own grave.
“I am drawn to the peculiar and uncanny, both in literature and in the visual arts,” she says. “When not certain what to make of something, I enter a state of wonder and curiosity. Likewise, I hope to lead my readers into worlds that are both uncomfortable and strangely familiar. It is in such states of uncertainty that we begin to ask questions. If my work inspires readers to wonder, to ask questions, and to reflect upon the human condition, I consider that the highest personal and professional success.”
Originally from Houston, Strong came to Rhode Island to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts. She has a master of visual arts from Goldsmiths College/University of London and a master of fine arts from Hartford Art School.
A member of the Salve Regina faculty since 2004, she is also a faculty fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. Strong says her colleagues in the art department have always been supportive of both her teaching and professional endeavors.
“Within the art department, the dedicated community of educators and students is a mutual source of joy and enrichment,” she says. “I am grateful to teach at an institution that works toward creating a merciful and just world. The world certainly needs this right now.”