Being Around People Who Get It

19 April 2019 on Blog, Nonfiction, Storystorm  

En route to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, I ran into a writer at the airport who I knew from my past life as a newspaper reporter. Coincidentally, he was also an alumni of the University of New Hampshire’s Master of Fine Arts program and also going to AWP. How strange to see him there! What were the chances!

“You wait,” he told me. “You’ll see all kinds of people you weren’t expecting to see.”

I laughed and said, sure, maybe, though probably not. But the very next day, while zooming back to the book fair for my shift at the Barnstorm table, I found a former coworker browsing our pig tattoo and pen collection. We’d been meaning to meet up for ages, and finally, thanks to AWP, we were able to the next morning over a strawberry Voodoo doughnut she pulled from her purse and authentic Portland coffee, in that it was coffee and we were in Portland.

Our Barnstorm table saw a slew of UNH alumni, including the guy who actually started our literary magazine long ago, plus the author of  “This Ragged Cat is Not My Heart,” our nonfiction story published in February. I saw many writers whose work I’ve read and admired -- Karen Russell! Cheryl Strayed! Rebecca Makkai! Tayari Jones! -- though, of course, none of them knew me and were totally unaware that I love them. Makkai said during a very-full session that she loved being at AWP because it allowed her to spend time with “her people.”

Many writers, like the guy I knew at the airport, go to AWP each year. They say being around people who “get it” leaves them inspired and gets them through the next 360 days of what can be a very lonely occupation.

In some ways, I feel I know my favorite writers and my writer friends better than many people I actually spend lots of time with. When you read someone’s writing, you learn what that writer cares about via her subjects and the way she writes about them. You see, very clearly, whether she’s a minimalist or maximalist and how she feels about punctuation such as exclamation points and Oxford commas. Sometimes, you can push aside her words and find the writer’s heart right there on the page.

There’s a strange intimacy between writers and their readers. We don’t need to see each other all the time -- that’s what the writing’s for. But I think AWP is nice in the way that MFA programs are nice. It makes being a writer feel a little less crazy for awhile.

Kelly Sennott is Barnstorm's Nonfiction Editor.

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