Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rubbing Elbows

In the spring of 1990, I was invited to speak at a local elementary school. It was their Celebrate Writing Day, and a half dozen professional writers of different genres were going to share their insights with the students. My first play for Stages of Imagination, Inc., The Monster in the Woods, was currently running and had garnered some press, so I was the playwright guy. The kids were wide-eyed and wonderful, and the morning went quickly.

The thank you for our pro bono presentations was lunch in their library. A husband and wife team sat across from me. He was a fiction writer; she was a poet, as I remember. I introduced myself in between bites of my hoagie. He was visibly upset. He told me that his fourth book had recently been published, but it wasn't selling as he had hoped. He hated his regular job and wanted to quit to write full time, but his current royalities wouldn't allow it. His wife told him to hang on, that she believed in him, and that somehow they would make it through this difficult time. The students were going to present their writing to their classmates in the afternoon, so I took my leave. I wished the upset writer the very best of luck.

Six months later, I read where the upset writer, Jerry Spinelli, won the Newberry Award for his fourth novel, Maniac Magee.

Writing is a joy, especially when the words are flowing,  the characters are dictating their lines, and the scenes are rich with hurt and humor and hope. It is not a joy when the business of writing, the publishing and production potholes, whack you alongside the head.

Over the years, I have rubbed elbows with many professional writers who have walked up the same steep slope as me. Each one of their victories, whether small or large, is my victory. Empathy among writers is a powerful antidote for the feeling of isolation and rejection that we all experience. Persistance and determination are the driving forces that all creative people must have ingrained in their DNA.

Here are some of the more notable writers that I have met or communicated with via phone or correspondence. Each had or still have challenges with the publishing or production potholes, and each will be damned if they will ever quit.

Writers: Kurt Vonnegut, James Baldwin, Jerzy Kosinski, Andrew Greeley, Chaim Potok, Lloyd Alexander, Ray Bradbury, Donna Jo Napoli, Cyril Clemens, Jimmy Carter, Jon Cohen, and Judy Schachner.

Playwrights: Bruce Graham, Michael Hollinger, Ed Shockley, Walt Vail, Marcus Stevens, and Brian Lowdermilk.

In future blogs I will give more details about my meetings and conversations with some of the folks above. And, maybe I'll describe the night in a loft in Soho when Poets and Writers Inc. was throwing a benefit, and E. L. Doctorow, Allan Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Erica Jong and a host of others, including me, stayed way too late on a school night to rub elbows.

Copyright (c) 2011 by James Hugh Comey

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