We’re all on some sort of journey, aren’t we? Check back here
periodically to find out more about G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s journeys
through the literary world and through life.
When I was working on my MFA at Pacific University years ago, I attended a talk offered by author Valerie Miner who stressed the importance of literary community.
One of my takeaways back then was that we writers should be busy reviewing each other’s manuscripts, participating as judges in writing contests, and writing book reviews to gain greater visibility in the world for ourselves and for our work. One of my takeaways from the broader MFA world was that there is a distinct hierarchy in the literary community, and one of the ways to climb up its rungs is to put yourself out there and, hopefully, get a chance to hobnob with the greatest of the greats.
I have since learned that belonging to a literary community is far more than supporting a personal agenda or rubbing elbows with literary dieties. Yesterday I was reminded of this lesson again. There is one far more important reason to belong to a literary community.
The key word is belong.
The third level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is love and belonging, right there above survival and safety. The problem with our literary world–understandably, because it becomes increasingly crowded each day with new writers–is that it’s so huge that it’s hard to feel that you belong. There are cliques, and cliques inside cliques, and cliques inside cliques inside cliques. There are labels. And levels of validity. In other words, there are snobs, not much different from middle or high school days. All this in a world where artists simply want to express themselves.
Yesterday was National Sibling’s Day, and although I curated an event at Third Place Books – Ravenna to celebrate our siblings, at which eight poets and writers shared something about sibling relationships, it turned out to be more of an event for literary connections than I’d anticipated. One of the participants was a poet I’d known since my MFA days, with whom I was thrilled to reconnect; a few were recent acquaintances with whom I was able to deepen a connection; and some were people I’d never met in person but was delighted to discover. The audience also included several writers whom I’d never met until yesterday and now am heartily glad I did.
As I sat listening to the featured readings, and later sat at Vios Pub chatting over beer and wine, I was reminded that writers are an interesting lot. Just yesterday alone, I interacted with a soldier’s wife who confessed to having been a childhood bully, a retired national park ranger who once served a stint as a bouncer at a go-go club, an Amsterdam native with the most lyrical voice, a woman whose sister had been the victim of a serial killer, a scientist longing to finally use her right brain, and an artist-turned-marijuana executive. You just don’t find this diversity in a lot of groups these days. But in writerly groups, the sky’s the limit.
When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I thought that meant I wanted to write stories, publish them, have people enjoy them, and I’d wind up becoming kinda sorta rich and famous. So far, I’ve accomplished the first three goals. But each time some naïve soul asks me how many books I’ve sold (yes, people do ask that), and I’m reminded by my analytics that I’ll probably never break records, I find myself feeling a bit smug because I’ve discovered that sales and 5-star reviews aren’t the only sources of gratification (although, let me emphasize: they are nice). Equally, or perhaps more important, is knowing I belong with so many fabulous people–people who have helped me grow.
One of the things Valerie Miner also said way back when was that it’s easy to get lost in the hierarchy, the ranking, and labeling [of the writing world]. I am so grateful that, thanks to my writerly friends—including Arleen Williams, Russell Cahill, Marguerite Bloem, Lea Galanter, Abby E. Murray, Michael G. Hickey, and Ed Jay–I feel quite the opposite of being lost. I actually feel rather found.