For Kortney Morrow, imagination was an ever-present friend throughout her childhood.
Her flair for storytelling emerged when she was a small child creating stories with dolls in her bedroom, and now her creativity has landed her one of Ohio’s most prominent awards for young writers.
Morrow, an Ohio State alum who graduated in 2022 with her Master of Fine Arts, is the winner of the 2023 Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant, an award given to young and promising writers that recognizes compelling writing, literary merit and skillful storytelling, Ohioana Library’s executive director David Weaver said.
If achieving one of the Ohioana Library Association’s most prestigious awards wasn’t enough, Weaver said Morrow garnered a vast majority of first-place votes on her route to victory in this year’s competition.
“It is remarkable how often the judges’ top picks are all very closely the same, as was this year with Kortney Morrow,” Weaver said.
Considering Morrow’s professional success, it may come as a surprise that becoming a writer was not always in her plans for the future.
“I wanted to be a pop star,” Morrow said. “I wanted to be Britney Spears or Mariah Carey. I did not think about becoming a writer or writing books.”
Morrow said she always excelled in her English classes while growing up in the Shaker Heights City School District in the Greater Cleveland, Ohio, area, but was often disinterested in her assigned classwork.
“I didn’t really enjoy reading the books my teachers told me to read,” Morrow said. “My love of reading just included ‘Gossip Girl.’”
Morrow credits two key life events for her sustained love of writing and the English language, the first being when she was studying abroad in Rome as a part of her undergraduate program at DePaul University, she said.
“I tried to capture everything that I was seeing while I was in Italy through writing, and I kept filling up all of my notebooks,” Morrow said. “That’s really when I realized I love processing the world through writing, and I am going to continue to process the world through writing for the rest of my life.”
Morrow said she also credits her journey at Ohio State to pursue her master’s degree.
“It meant a lot to be able to develop my path with a suite of incredible writers and instructors who guided me to develop and trust my own intuition,” Morrow said.
During her time at Ohio State, Morrow worked for 826 New Orleans, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering and amplifying the voices of young writers. Morrow said this is where she would cross paths with Brooke Pickett, a New Orleans-based visual artist.
“Very early on, it was apparent that we worked very well together,” Pickett said. “Our skills complement each other really well, and we have a lot in common when it comes to how we see the world.”
Over the span of two years, Pickett said she and Morrow were able to double 826 New Orleans’ budget and staff by being creative and thinking big.
While the duo was able to accomplish great things together at 826 New Orleans, Pickett said they both knew it was time for something new, ultimately deciding to part ways with the nonprofit in 2022.
“We were having conversations about what we can do next,” Pickett said. “How do we take the skill sets we currently have and do it on a larger scale?”
From these aspirations, Studio Reciprocity — an organization that works alongside artists, nonprofits and organizations to help re-imagine their impact and funding — was born, Morrow said.
Both Pickett and Morrow spend 20 hours per week working with Studio Reciprocity clients and 20 hours honing their respective artistic crafts, Morrow said.
“That’s how we protect our artistic sensibility and artistic practice while still making an impact using these amazing skills that we’ve developed over the course of both of our careers,” Morrow said.
For Morrow, the time split has come with huge success, as her writings have garnered high praise. Weaver said that the judges’ comments speak to such success, articulating the distinct skills she possesses as a writer.
“Her work has staying power,” one judge of the Ohioana Awards commented on Morrow’s submission. “It is memorable. She is adept with imagery and a powerful forceful voice.”
Though Morrow is incredibly honored to receive such an esteemed award, she is simply happy to be able to write partially for a living, she said.
“Every day that [my words] show up on that page is an incredible accomplishment,” Morrow said. “I’m ready to keep taking things to the next level with my writing. I’m very ambitious, and I have accomplished a lot, but I’m not done.”
Morrow will be honored during the Ohioana Awards Ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium 6 p.m., Thursday, and her winning work will be published in the upcoming fall edition of the Ohioana Quarterly.
More information about Morrow can be found on her personal website .