One thing I love about writers is their generosity. I hear that not everyone has that experience in writing programs or writing communities. I guess some people are cut-throat competitive, condescending and just plain ugly, even writers. But by-and-large, that hasn’t been my experience.
I don’t have sports heroes, and I don’t know the names of the current Hollywood A-Listers. I fell off the pop-culture wagon when my first child was born, and like any other middle-aged fuddy-duddy, I see no reason to get back on. My heroes are writers. Artists. People who try to find the most honest truth, and hold it in their hand for everyone else to see.
When I went to my first MFA residency, I packed my car with sheets and blankets and enough underwear to make it two weeks without a laundry mat. I brought outfits for every possible situation but only two pairs of shoes. I would come to regret the lack of shoes profoundly. But I also brought hope and fear and the burning desire to go find the best writers in the room and sit next to them and learn how they did what they did. I knew I was above-average, but I knew I needed a hell of a lot of help to rise to the level of my dreams.
We had to do a student reading, and although I was pretty comfortable about public speaking in general, this was different. This was showing real writers my own words, and I was terrified.
I met one of the graduating seniors, Andrea Fekete, a woman who had already published a freaking novel and a chapbook of poetry. She could have walked in with a fake smile and an insincere, “nice to meet you,” and I wouldn’t have felt slighted. She had earned the right to be holier than my little first semester self. But she wasn’t. Instead, she sat in my dorm room and read my work, because I was too afraid to read it aloud. She listened to me read it over and over again and told me where to cut it for best impact. She gave up a night when she had friends and other people to hang out with and for no reason whatsoever she stopped what she was doing and made time for me.
I have not seen her in real life since she graduated, but we became Facebook friends, then switched to email, text, and all the usual forms of internet connection. When she asked for help in putting together an anthology, I was quick to offer to help, and bless her heart, she let me. I freely admitted that I am still somewhat confused by the comma. I told her I would not be much use in the line-editing department. I was not an English major and am quite sure I haven’t read enough of the classics to qualify as an expert in anything literature-related. And still she welcomed me to be part of her project.
Together we sifted through hundreds of essays and poems. I told her I didn’t know the first thing about poetry, but she still asked for my opinion. We have finally made it to the submitting stage of bringing our book into the world, tentatively titled, Memoirs of the Feminine Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility. You see, her project wasn’t about making herself look good. It wasn’t about publishing to get a job or a star on her forehead. It was about helping women share their own voices. Giving the microphone to people who never get the chance to be heard.
In-between all of this, she always made time to help me with my own work. At first I was too embarrassed to show her my fumbling essays, but she reassured me, and helped me to be brave. Her input always sharpened my writing and her encouragement helped me send my essays into the world.
And I got to read her work, too. And in her words, I found feelings I had been unable to form properly. There’s this perfect moment in poetry, when the words on the page feel so much like what you feel in your chest that you want to say, “thank you.”
Thank you for taking all these swirling emotions and fragmented thoughts in my head and putting them down on paper for the world to see. Because sometimes we can’t make them come out right ourselves.
Buy I Held a Morning from Finish Line Press
Waters Run Wild, Andrea Fekete’s amazing novel about the West Virginia mine wars, can be purchased here.
(An excerpt from Waters Run Wild is also included in Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods, available from WVU Press
Read two of my favorite poems by Andrea Fekete below:
Missing Kid Photos On Milk Cartons, published on In Between Hangovers
I’ve Decided, published on The Kentucky Review
Copyright © 2021 Lara Lillibridge
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