Today was solid from beginning to end. Those who know what Writers Week is all about realize that while writing is the central focus, the week is more about integrity, perseverance, vulnerability, and a host of other fundamental attributes that make us human.
Evidence, you say? You want evidence? Here’s evidence.
1) Chicago writer Jonathan Eig began the day at 7:30 a.m. What were you doing at this ungodly hour? Not speaking to 550 tired faces, I assume. He woke them up, captivated them with his stories.
2) Takes him two to four years to write the books. He’s written bios on Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Al Capone.
3) “There’s an awesome responsibility as a biographer to get it right...I’m a stickler for details.” (Again, I’m doing my best here to transpose. I can’t very well ask these guests to repeat key lines while on stage, and if I record them, there’s no way I’m going back to listen—though we have done that when we produced highlight CDs. Now, if I were a biographer, I’d be much more responsible.)
4) Eig talked about the necessity for details. If you’re a reporter investigating a story, “you get the name of the dog.”
5) He said it took about a year to get Robinson’s widow to open up about her husband. He would send her old photos to gain her trust, to jog her memory. He even went to their old apartment and took pictures.
I can stand in front of a class and talk about perseverance, but Eig embodied it.
Next up was a young poet from Minnesota, Sierra DeMulder. She had me teary-eyed several times with her poems about cancer, anorexia, and rape (“The person who did this to you is broken, not you...Nothing was stolen from you”). She had me enraged with her poems about brutal discrimination, drug abuse, and child neglect. She had me thinking with her persona poem from the point of view of a serial killer’s mother (“No one wants to hear you were a wonderful child”; “Did I hold your hand too tightly when we crossed the streets?”). And she had me laughing many times with her poems on love and maturity. Best title: “On watching someone you love, love someone else.” Best advice/encouragement: “After high school, life gets so much better...You will change a hundred times over, like a revolving door, like a waterfall...You will give and receive love like an open window.” At one point, retiree Kevin Brewner shook his head and whispered, “Incredible similes.”
Chris Crutcher enthralled next with his masterful storytelling. As a former and sometimes therapist, he talked about how his experiences with young children inform his writing, how they teach him about strength and grief and unconditional love.
Part of his charm is his self-deprecation: “What do you want out of high school?” someone once asked him. “Outta high school,” he responded.
Practical advice: “You have an imagination, but so does the reader. Don’t need to put down every little detail.” “Writing isn’t magic, it’s tenacity.”
Last up was showman Buddy Wakefield, who commands audiences with his sweetness, hilarity, and depth. “I keep forgetting to put focus on my to-do list.” “I know I’m better than the worst thing I’ve done.” “Writing was a healing tool for me.” On style: “I made myself vulnerable.” On memorizing his work: “I memorize in my body, not just my brain.”
What’s wonderful about Buddy is how he balances the serious with the whimsical. He answers questions respectfully, showing great integrity for his art and the necessary habits to keep that art alive.
A great day. And now I’m tired.