Building a Writer Community

From left to right: Chris Moyer, Eric McQuade, Matt Gallant, Dallas Allen, Ruth Baumann, and myself

On Friday night, I went to a release party for the Fall 2014 issue of The Pincha graduate-student run journal run out of the University of Memphis that I was a Managing Editor of back in 2012. Ruth Baumann, the Managing Editor of the Fall 2014 issue, had asked if I would read poems from the current issue and some of my own work, and it couldn’t have gone better.

I love being around writers, and it reminded me of the commonality we all have. I can walk into any group of writers and feel that same connection. We were all shaped with the same soul-kernel that helps make understanding one another so much easier. This sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but I spent the whole night just wandering from person to person, many of them strangers, and never felt more comfortable.

When I joined an MFA program, I didn’t think much about the importance of having a writing community. I read very little poetry, talked to no one in my day-to-day life about poetry, but I wrote it and wanted to write it more. I got into the University of Memphis MFA program by luck, it seems. I don’t think I wrote all that well nor did I really have a clear idea of what I wanted. All I knew is I felt this tug to apply to an MFA program, so I applied only to the Memphis program, and I somehow got in.

Throughout the course of the program, I developed very close friendships. We traded work. I called them when someone made a mean critique and I needed consolation that my work (or myself) was okay. We called each other to celebrate acceptances, offer condolences for rejections or close calls, give suggestions, hold one another accountable for submitting work. Writing is a hard life, and it’s also a mysteriously alien life to those who are not a part of it. I couldn’t rejoice with my husband that I’d gotten a personalized rejection from a great journal because his response was, “Why are we celebrating if you got rejected?” I couldn’t come up with any sort of metaphor or analogy that he could understand, and that’s okay. He’s not a writer, but I need my writer friends who do understand.

We took the picture up top at the release party. It’s me and other current and former editors for The Pinch. I knew two of the people pretty well, and the other three I had met or known by name only. By the end of the party, I got to talk to all of them and again felt that same sense of commonality, that “This is a hard road. Want to walk it together?” I even had more talks of “Want to trade work?” or “Let’s meet up!”

The thing is, if I hadn’t shown up to this event with other writers, I would have lost the opportunity to make new friends and continue to build my network that can help me get through what I’m doing now: trying to get my book published. While an MFA helped me get that first writer community, I have to show up, I have to be open and willing to engage, and I have to keep carrying the love of all things literary.

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