by Tim Storhoff
Early on in Enid Shomer‘s professional writing career, she won the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs Individual Artist’s Fellowship for literature. Last month, Enid’s first novel The Twelve Rooms of the Nile was named by NPR as one of 2012’s best works of historical fiction. The book tells the story of Florence Nightingale before she came to prominence during the Crimean War and Gustave Flaubert before he began writing Madame Bovary. According to the book’s description, “She is a woman with radical ideas about society and God, naive in the ways of men. He is a notorious womanizer, involved with innumerable prostitutes. But both are at painful crossroads in their lives and burn with unfulfilled ambition.” On a trip along the Nile in 1850, these two travelers ignite an unlikely friendship and share some of their deepest secrets and most fervent hopes, all colored by the exotic backdrop of mid-nineteenth century Egypt.
In the following video from publisher Simon and Schuster, you can hear Enid describe her inspiration for the novel:
Shomer has had her poetry and fiction published widely, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Paris Review, Best American Poetry, Best New Stories from the South and many other magazines as well as more than seventy anthologies and textbooks. As a Visiting Writer, Shomer has taught at the University of Arkansas, Florida State University, and the Ohio State University, where she was the Thurber House Writer-in-Residence. In 2002, Shomer became the Poetry Series Editor for her former poetry publisher, the University of Arkansas Press. Most recently, she has taught in the MFA program at Ashland University and the University of Tampa.
As a three-time DCA Individual Artist’s Fellowship recipient, I asked Enid about the impact that the small but prestigious awards had on her career. She said:
When I won my first Individual Artist’s Fellowship, it was not only financially helpful; it also reinforced the choice I had made to put everything else aside and “go for” a career as a full-time writer. Five years later (by this time I had published a book of poetry) a second grant enabled me to work on a project that became my first book of fiction, Imaginary Men, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and the LSU/Southern Review Award, both given annually for the best first collection of fiction by an American writer.
Of course, three state grants totaling $15,000 over a lifetime cannot change anyone’s economic status, but it is enough money to invest in a good computer, to cover the cost of office supplies, clerical help, printing, even travel to meet one’s agent or for research, and so forth. Equally important for me was the impact of other peoples’ confidence in my own talent. Poets and fiction writers work in isolation. It is the vote of approval and most of all the interest of one’s peers—the judges and the Arts Council—in one’s work that makes these grants so meaningful. I felt incredibly grateful, even indebted, to my home state, an obligation I discharged by serving as a judge three times on the Literature panel.
The Florida Division of Cultural Affairs would like to congratulate Ms. Shomer on the success of The Twelve Rooms of the Nile and thank her for the contributions she has made to Florida’s literary community.
You can also read the first chapter of the novel and listen to comedian and writer Russell Kane interview Ms. Shomer for BBC Radio here. The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is now available for purchase in your local bookstores and online. Learn more about our Individual Artists Fellowship at the Division of Cultural Affairs website.