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September 12, 2005
Contact: Mary Jane Dunlap, University Relations, (785) 864-8853.

KU English assistant professor wins Jaffe Award for emerging female writers

LAWRENCE - Rebecca Curtis, University of Kansas assistant professor of English with Armenian roots who is writing her first novel, will be honored Sept. 22 in New York City as one of six emerging female writers winning a $10,000 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award.

Curtis, who has published short stories in The New Yorker, Harper's and McSweeney's in addition to many literary journals, says the Rona Jaffe award will support her research for a novel based on the true story of a woman's survival and escape from the Armenian genocide of in the early 1900s.

The woman, Azni Gostanian, later cared for Curtis' mother when she was orphaned at age 10. Although not related, Curtis refers to Gostanian as her "auntie." Two of Gostanian's daughters, now in their 70s, are interested in helping Curtis research the story of their mother's daring escape to the United States.

Curtis' inspiration for the novel comes from Gostanian's typewritten account of her ordeal. Next year, Curtis plans her first trip to Armenia and Eastern Turkey.

" I'm eager to try a different project, one that goes outside my direct knowledge. Yet, in a way, I also feel like I'll be connecting with my roots by telling the story of an Armenian auntie. Her escape in some ways epitomizes the plight of women: in dangerous times, they sometimes need to resort to using wiles, and/or their sexuality, to survive.

Gostanian was a young wife with a new baby in 1915 when her husband was killed along with thousands of other Armenian men by Turkish soldiers in a massacre in Harput or Kharput now known as Elazig, in Eastern Turkey. To save her child, and herself, Gostanian accepted the protection of a friend of her father. She became the fifth wife in his harem and was treated badly by his other wives.

A Turkish woman befriended Gostanian and helped her steal a horse that Gostanian used to ride to freedom with her infant child through the mountainous country to the Syrian border. Curtis says she envisions a story of romance, death, escape, betrayal, kindness, salvation and sacrifice.

Curtis joined the KU faculty in 2003. She has a B.A. from Pomona College, an M.A. from New York University, and an M.F.A. from Syracuse University.

The Rona Jaffe Foundation program is the only national literary awards program devoted exclusively to women. Jaffe created the progam to identify and support female writers of talent and promise in the early stages of their writing careers.

The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Awards are given to writers of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Since the program began in 1995, the Foundation has awarded more than $520,000 to a total of 74 female writers. For many award recipients, this may be the first public recognition they have had for their work. Past recipients of the Writers' Awards, have since received wider critical recognition for their work.


Jaffe is the author of 16 books, including Class Reunion, Family Secrets, and The Road Taken; a classic children's book, The Last of the Wizards; and her most recent novel, The Room-Mating Season (2003). Her 1958 best-selling first novel, The Best of Everything, was reissued by Penguin in June 2005.

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