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Husband-wife writers among NEA grant recipients


Baltimore writers Madison Smartt Bell and Elizabeth Spires will each receive $20,000 fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts to allow them to devote more time to their literary work, the federal agency will announce today.

The grants are part of $31 million given to artists and arts institutions across the country in the agency's first round of awards for 1992. Maryland artists and organizations have received $159,000 in federal money.

Mr. Bell and Ms. Spires, who are married, will use the NEA grants to take leaves from their jobs as college professors at Goucher College and the Johns Hopkins University.

Mr. Bell won the award -- his first -- based upon several chapters of a historical novel he is writing about Toussaint L'Ouverture, the former slave who conquered Haiti and abolished slavery. The book is written largely from the point of view of 18th century black slaves.

NEA literary panels read all submissions without knowing the identities of the authors.

"It proves that the blind submission process works because [this historical novel] was totally unlike anything I had ever written before," the 34-year-old writer said. "It's a validation of the quality of your actual work rather than of your reputation."

His ninth book, "Save Me, Joe Louis," will be published next year. His most recently published works, are the novel "Doctor Sleep" and "Barking Man," a collection of short stories.

This award marks the second NEA grant for 39-year-old poet Elizabeth Spires. She submitted work which will appear in her fourth book -- a collection of poems about conception and birth -- as well as poems from her third book "Annonciade."

"The best part about the award is getting extended periods to work that don't come up often when one is teaching," Ms. Spires said. "These occasional years are terrific gifts which give you the time to actually realize ideas that have been percolating."

Other NEA grant recipients in Baltimore are the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Inc., $14,600; the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore, Inc., $5,000; musician Jane Lamar-Spicka, $5,000; choreographer Nathan Birch, $7,000; the Baltimore Opera Company, Inc, $15,000; the Walters Art Gallery, $24,400; Maryland Art Place, Inc., $5,000; the Baltimore Museum of Art, Inc, $5,000.

Elsewhere, the University of Maryland at College Park received $6,000 for its annual Handel Festival which was canceled last year because of insufficient funding. The National Council for Traditional Arts in Silver Spring received $35,600 to support a touring program of African-American performance traditions.

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