Welcome to autumn!
The hubby and I recently attended the dinner and ceremony for the NYS Author Jaqueline Woodson and Poet Patricia Spears Jones because I served on the jury to select the author. The emotion and joy for the honored women who were selected was palpable. The next day, my hubby and I volunteered at the New York State Writers Institute’s Albany Book Festival. I got to run the mic around the room for questions for a couple of panels and listen to writers be interesting and open with the audience. What left me in tears, the good kind, was the tribute to the late Russell Banks.
I met him once at my husband’s cousin’s wedding. His cousin married Russell Banks’ granddaughter. I didn’t know until later when my father-in-law told me. That day, he was just a proud grandpa celebrating. When I shared this story, the people who knew him said how that sounded like him. They said he was humble and aimed to lift other people and writers up. He did this through his writing and through his actions in life.
Hearing the tributes by writers like Annie Proulx, Andre Dubus III, Jennifer Haigh, and Nell Irvin Painter. I found myself wishing I’d gotten the chance to know better, to share in that generous spirit. Then I thought, no, that’s not it. I’m sure he was wonderful, and I would have taken that opportunity if it presented itself. What I really want is to be like him. Not so that people will throw a tribute to me, but that my actions in this world leave people feeling lifted and not crushed by knowing me.
I’ve witnessed great generosity through my jobs, and writers are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. They know how important the literary community is. We depend on each other to continue doing this thing we all love. Whether it’s book reviews, sharing work for critiques, or simply someone who understands the amount of rejection involved in writing. It’s a symbiotic system. There’s bartering and sharing so we can all survive. Sadly, there’s also pettiness and mistreatment within the writing world. That’s a whole post for another day.
But that’s not the focus for today. Today is about generosity. There is so much rejection in writing, the arts in general, and really any time someone takes a risk, it can be scary and easy to shut down. Hearing a variety of writers speak about Russell Bank’s spirit touching each of them and making them want to do their best and keep going even when it was rough made me cry. There are so many writers I watch through social media who lift others up every day. Some I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting in person. I also aim to be and do a fraction of them. Athena Dixon, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Emily Everett, Rhonda Douglas, and Allison K Williams. The list could go on. They lift others up while not comprising their work or their voices to do so.
I also have a great appreciation for those who post about books. Such an important connection between the writer and the reader is the book sharer. Whether they focus on female writers, writers of color, trans writers, or simply books that can be read in a weekend. Looking at the number of books being produced, it’s overwhelming to know where to get started. Those promoters are such a great resource for cutting through the noise. Much like a good indie bookstore or an active librarian. They want to connect readers to books and therefore writers.
Today is about shouting out the ones who shout out and the simple beauty in what they do. Who do you know who’s lifting others up?