Dobie Paisano Fellowships at The University of Texas
There are presently no open calls for applications.
By the time of his death in 1964, J. Frank Dobie had become nationally and internationally known. A writer, columnist, and folklorist, Dobie had become a champion of southwestern culture and the spokesman for everything Texas. He was a chronicler of Texas history and was instrumental in saving the Texas Longhorn from extinction. President Johnson awarded him the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Freedom.
In 1959, Dobie bought 258 acres southwest of Austin and named it Paisano, the Spanish word for roadrunner and, meaningful to Dobie, “compatriot." More a retreat than a working ranch, Paisano was a delightful gathering place for friends and colleagues. A few months after Dobie's death, a group of friends decided that preserving Paisano and using it for a writers' retreat would be both a fitting memorial and a way of extending his legendary generosity toward writers. Thus, the Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program was established. Over its fifty years, the program has become one of the most prestigious writer retreats in the country, hosting not only some of the most important Texas writers but some of the most distinguished national and international writers as well.
Sponsored by the Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin, the Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program provides writers solitude, time, and a comfortable place to work. The retreat is on a 250-acre ranch about twenty minutes west of Austin. Here J. Frank Dobie's ranch house sits below a wall of cliffs and near a clear, beautiful creek. The house is fully furnished with modern conveniences. Utilities, the internet, and phone service are provided, though the fellow must pay for long distance telephone service, and the internet service can, at times, be ornery.
In the past, two separate fellowships have been offered. Due to issues securing funding for the 2023-24 fellowship cycle, only the Ralph A. Johnston Memorial Fellowship will be offered. The residency for this fellowship typically runs four months, from September through December, though the length of residency may change for maintenance or program needs. The fellowship is available to writers in any genre, especially poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Non-fiction should be written for a general audience. In addition to residency at the ranch, the fellowship includes a monthly stipend of $6000 for four months.
The Ralph A. Johnston Memorial Fellowship is aimed at writers who have already demonstrated some publishing and critical success. This may or may not be writers a little later along in their literary careers. The definition of "publishing and critical success" will be determined by the judges each year, but in general, we would expect at least one well-received book or an impressive list of published essays, articles, poems, stories, etc. The decision of the judges will be based on the quality of the writer's work and their potential for future excellence. The writer's suitability for ranch life is also taken into account.
At the time of application, the applicant must meet at least one of the following requirements: (1) be a native Texan, (2) have resided in Texas for at least three years at some time, or (3) have published significant work with a Texas subject.
The application fee is $20.00. Application fees are non-refundable.
Suitability for Ranch Life
While the ranch and the beautiful creek that runs through it will give you peace, beauty, privacy, and, eventually, a powerful sense of home, applicants must understand that it IS the country—which means rattlesnakes, coyotes, scorpions, skunks, fire ants, chiggers, lizards, wasps, horse flies, ticks, spiders, water moccasins, wild turkeys, wild hogs, and other creatures with whom you share the land. You must remain alert when walking around the ranch. It also means weekly driving out your trash to the main gate a mile and a half away. The mailbox is another one-half mile down the road. In the rainy season, the low-water crossing can quickly flood, leaving you stranded—sometimes for three or four days. We have an emergency escape route that requires a rough ride on a four-wheeler IF the rancher next to us is home and available. Be honest with yourself. Rural life is not for everyone.
Applicants with School Age Children
Sadly, those with school-age children will have to take into consideration not only these but also the facts of daily life. It is not easy to rush out of the ranch. The daily journey to and from school requires slow and careful driving for two miles over a gravel road and the unlocking and locking of two gates. If we’ve had heavy rain, the road can quickly become rutted and the low-water crossing can overflow, which means there may be no way out of the ranch or no way back in on a return trip. Moreover, once you’re out of the ranch, the route to school, especially any school in Austin, is usually slowed to a crawl, morning and afternoon. At peak times, the journey can easily take an hour or more. School-age children are certainly allowed, of course. We just must make sure the writer understands the obstacles and risks and the willingness to accept them. If you do intend to live with school-age children, we ask that you provide us with your plan to make this work.
Absence from the Ranch
The Paisano fellowship is awarded with the understanding that the fellow will live at the ranch full time. The condition of the monthly stipend requires continuous, not continual, residency. If you must be away from the ranch more than a few days, the writer must notify the University police and the Director. You may not have a friend stay at the ranch in your absence unless that friend has been approved by the Director and gone through a University background check.
Odds and Ends
Of course, it’s only normal for a fellow to want to show, even share, the ranch with others. While visitors are welcomed (with the approval of the director), we ask the fellow to keep in mind at all times that the ranch is a place to work. It is not a place to party or to receive guests over a sustained period.
Dogs are allowed at the ranch, but the Fellow assumes all responsibility for any damage that may result from their presence. Because of past experience, cats are not allowed. One can petition the director for an exception, but exceptions are rare.
While we have fairly reliable satellite Internet service and good cell-phone connections for most carriers, sometimes, due to weather or circumstances beyond our control, Internet service may be slow or only periodic and some cell-phone carriers require a trip to the front porch to receive service.
The fellow is asked to sign a more detailed agreement about how the house and ranch is (and is not) to be used. To not meet those guidelines is grounds of revocation of the fellowship.
Application forms will be available from January 15th - February 28th. Entries for the fellowship must be submitted or before February 28th.The application fee is $20.00. Application fees are non-refundable.
The application process asks for the following things: 1) A writing sample that best helps us evaluate the quality and content of your writing. 2) A clear and concise description of what you plan to work on during your residency. Please include a rough idea of where you are on this project—just the thinking stage? a completed first draft?, etc. 3) A brief statement on your suitability for ranch life. Please limit writing samples to no more than 50 manuscript pages. Supporting work, including published work, is permitted but is included in the 50-page limit. The writing sample should reflect your best work and be indicative of the type of writing you would pursue at Paisano. Judges will read only the first 50 pages submitted.
Judges for the competition are former fellows. We do not release the names of the judges.
Personal recommendations are not requested and are not included in applicant files.
Announcement of Winners
Winners are typically announced in May. Applicants will be notified of the results via email as soon as possible. Applicants do not receive any critique of their entries.
Austin and Austin-area Applicants
The purpose of a Dobie Paisano fellowship is to provide solitude and financial support for a committed writer. The fellowship requires full-time residency at the ranch. It cannot be used as a part-time work site or as a temporary retreat. If you live in Austin or the Austin area, it would be useful to the judges to read of your commitment to this requirement. You can address this commitment on the application form under: "Why do you feel that you would be a suitable Paisano fellow?"
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