Two Wittenberg University alumni were among 75 individuals named as recipients of the 2022 Ohio Arts Council (OAC) Individual Excellence Award.
Brandy Watts Schillace, Wittenberg class of 2000, earned an award in the non-fiction category, while Elizabeth Eshelman, class of 2006, earned an award in the fiction category.
A state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically, the OAC annually presents individual excellence awards to creative artists whose work exemplifies their specific discipline and advances the larger artistic community.
The awards also support artists' growth and development, while recognizing their work in Ohio and beyond. During this funding cycle, applications in the categories of choreography, criticism, fiction/nonfiction, music composition, playwriting, and poetry were accepted with awards announced in late February. Each award is $5,000.
The anonymous, open-panel review process is focused on the basis of exceptional merit of an artist’s past body of work.
A freelance writer from Euclid, Ohio, Schillace is the editor of a medical humanities and social justice journal.
“In all of my work, I focus on issues of health, access, and social justice,” she said. “My most recent book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher, examines the ethics of transplant science and the brain death debate – it is for this work that I won the award.
“The funds will actually be supporting my research on the next book, covering travel costs to Berlin, Germany, where I will be examining archives concerning the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, a supporter of trans and homosexual rights,” she continued. “He ran an institute and clinic for supporting gender affirming surgeries in the interwar period. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. Given our present climate of anti-trans legislation and the rise of fascist forces globally, it's an important area to be working in.”
Schillace’s new book is expected to be published in early 2024 by W.W. Norton & Company.
Eshelman, who lives in Westerville, Ohio, is in the process of submitting a completed novel to agents while drafting a new manuscript, the opening pages of which she submitted for consideration for the OAC award.
“The new novel ‘surprised’ me,” said Eshelman, who also received an OAC Individual Excellence Award in 2016. “I thought I was working on a short story, but sixty pages in I realized the subject was proving more complex, and I was getting invested in the way you have to be to sustain a long project.
“I’m not quite ready to share more details of that manuscript,” she admitted, “but for my completed novel, I can say it’s about two millennial musicians – one with talent but not passion, the other with passion but not talent – who struggle to find fulfillment in the ‘follow your heart’ advice of their generation. It’s a little like Sally Rooney’s Normal People meets the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle.”
Having attended the Sewanee Writers Conference in Tennessee last summer, Eshelman said that the OAC stipend will allow for similar opportunities in the future.
“I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve always engaged in writing,” she said. “But I’m also a mother and (until recently) a full-time corporate employee. This award is an important voice telling me to sit down and write, to keep going because my contributions have meaning and value beyond just me.”
Past Wittenberg alumni recipients include Melissa Barrett ’05, Jeremy Glazier ’97, and Terry Hermsen ’72.