inside_tji_sarahbraunstein
AWARD OUT OF THE BLUE: Sarah Braunstein.

About three months ago, 30-year-old Sarah Braunstein was a new mother with two master’s degrees and the dismayed sense that that she had miscalculated what her life would be like post-baby.

“I was totally overwhelmed and confused,” the new Portland resident says candidly of her “post-partum funk,” during which she feared that writing — a craft she’d honed at the University of Iowa’s famous creative writing program — would fall by the wayside while she tried to juggle motherhood and a part-time paying job (most likely in social work, which she’d studied for her second master’s degree, from Smith College).

She still doesn’t know who her fairy godmother (or father) is, but two weeks after her son Asa was born, Braunstein got an unexpected phone call from the Rona Jaffe Foundation, which annually identifies and honors emerging female writers (the foundation’s namesake, who died in 2005, is the author of The Last of the Wizards, The Best of Everything, and 14 other books). The caller told Braunstein that she’d been anonymously nominated, and chosen, to receive one of six $25,000 writer’s awards, which she will formally accept on Thursday in New York City.

She calls the award “miraculous,” and indeed, it’s an apt narrative for a woman who relishes magical realism. All she knows about the person who nominated her for the award is that he (or she) described her work as “beautiful and singular.”

In a matter of minutes, the prospects looked different for Braunstein and her husband, who moved into an Oakdale apartment just a few weeks ago. With the money, she can pay for part-time childcare and studio space that will give her more time to write. Braunstein is working on her first novel, Split, set in a place much like upstate New York — a locale that she says “enchanted me in some way when I was little.” It’s the story of people who want to flee superficially ordinary lives, in which “strange, bewildering, uncanny things are happening beneath the surface.”

“What interests me is looking at the most apparently sane and complete people, and finding out what is abnormal in those psychologies,” says Braunstein. At the same time, she strives to “take objects and places that seem familiar, and find the kind of strangeness in them.”

Surely, then, she’ll be comfortable in Portland.

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