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NEA fellowship allows IU East professor to write about power of horses in lives of women

Jean Harper was in the barn, working with her horse, when a conversation sparked the title for her latest book, "Horses and Divorces."

She'd been grumbling about her then-husband, who was beginning to object to how much time she was spending at the stables.

"A young woman, listening to me, just nodded knowingly. 'Horses and divorces,' she said," said Harper, an associate professor of English at IU East. "I asked her what she meant and she explained: Her mother, an attorney, often handled divorce cases initiated by middle-aged women who had, mid-life, taken up horseback riding. 'Horses change you,' this young woman said. And shrugged, as if, that's the way it goes."

The things Harper said she experienced after her own eventual divorce -- independence, strength, self-reliance -- are also things learned through being with a horse.

"Horses do change you," she said. "They changed me. So the book is my story, but it is also the story of the power of horses, especially in the lives of women."

Harper's work on the nonfiction prose book will be supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for writing. She's the only person in Indiana to receive the fellowship in literature this year, designed to give writers time and freedom to pursue their work.

"Receiving an NEA Fellowship is a huge honor, and I'm incredibly thrilled to receive this," Harper said. "I am also very grateful to Indiana University East for all the support I've been given over the years to do the work of writing that enabled me to earn this fellowship."

The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent agency of the federal government and has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies and the philanthropic sector.

North American Review, the oldest literary magazine in the United States, will also publish a chapter from Harper's book manuscript in 2012.

"The School of Humanities and Social Sciences is extremely proud of Jean Harper's work. Both the NEA Fellowship and publication in the North American Review are tremendous achievements that attest to Jean's success as a writer and researcher," said Katherine Frank, dean of IU East's School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Harper lives in Hagerstown, Ind. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Emerson College and her Bachelor of Arts in English from Earlham College.