Following a dream to the mountains

Delaney Nolan
Delaney Nolan

By Marissa Payne, The Daily Iowan

Her dreams rested high on the mythical peak of Mount Olympus. Now, Delaney Nolan, 27, will travel to Europe having achieved her dream of receiving a Fulbright.

The Fulbright program provides grants for individuals to study, teach, and conduct research in a foreign country for one year.

Nolan, one of the year’s 15 University of Iowa Fulbright recipients, departed  from the United States recently. She will spend five months in Greece and four in Bulgaria writing fiction inspired by five sites in the region, focusing primarily on researching folktales in the Rhodope Mountains.

“I’m interested in that region because it has this really fascinating, rich history,” she said. “It’s been the center of so many myths, and it’s been a really crucial region in tons of different cultures.”

Writing about mythology is not an unfamiliar feat for Nolan. She got her start in creative writing at age 7, when she wrote a story about a mythological figure with Christmas connections.

“My first story that I ever wrote … was about an elf who gets on a paper plane and goes on an adventure,” she said.

Despite her early passion for storytelling, Nolan only wrote on the side until her years after college, believing people could not make a living with creative writing.

Within a couple years after graduating from college, however, she could no longer ignore writing’s significance in her life. She applied to numerous M.F.A. programs and was rejected from each one.

After taking two years off to improve her writing and teach English in Istanbul, Nolan decided to apply to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was accepted.

“I felt like I had actually reached that point where my writing had improved but sort of plateaued, and I wanted to be in an environment where I had enough support to really focus on it and try to push it in a different direction,” she said.

In addition to her graduate studies in the Workshop, Nolan’s experience in the Fulbright program will open up many more doors for her professionally, said KarenWachsmuth, the UI associate director for international fellowships and the Fulbright program coordinator.

“Many of our Fulbright winners from the Writers’ Workshop, such as Delaney, are enormously accomplished already when they come here as students,” she said. “Fulbright gives our very highly accomplished writers from the Workshop and all the writing programs on campus … opportunities to take their careers in directions that they may not have yet had time to explore.”

Kelsi Vanada, a graduate student in the literary translation program who has known Nolan for two years, said Nolan’s people skills and talent will allow her to incorporate the tones of the region’s literary history into the stories she writes.

“Delaney is outgoing and friendly and makes people feel comfortable and … is an engaging person who’s interested in hearing about their culture,” she said. “She is someone who … likes to see different parts of the world and record what she experiences in her stories.”

Professionally, Nolan aspires to not only produce a novel inspired by the time she spends conducting research abroad this year but also teach creative writing upon returning to the country.

“I am interested in teaching in academia, and I know that the Fulbright is going to give me great experience for that,” she said.

While Wachsmuth describes Nolan as “accomplished,” Nolan said she never thought she would be a strong candidate for a Fulbright grant. She is happy to know her experience — once appearing to be a mere myth —  will soon become reality.

“It’s worth trying,” she said. “It’s a long process but it’s not like you’re in it by yourself … If it’s something that you’ve thought about doing, don’t sell yourself short.”

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