Monday, March 23, 2015

The Walls Around Us

One of the things I miss most about college is being surrounded by a community of writers all the time. I loved gathering together for open mic nights, or listening to visiting authors share their work and talk about their process. Especially since I was on a small campus, I would know pretty much everyone in the audience. And on open mic nights, I would get to hear the finished product of something we had workshopped in class. When we left the event, we'd walk back to the dorms together, talking about the writers we'd met, or our favorite open mic piece, or what we were working on next. I'd talk someone who had been too shy to share into going for it next time. That literary cocoon of support was one of my favorite parts of my time at Penn State. When I graduated, I mourned because I thought that was all over.

Turned out I was wrong. Sort of.

Tonight I attended a book reading at the McNally Jackson bookstore on Prince St. in NYC. The visiting author? None other than Nova Ren Suma, writer of several young adult books including 17 & Gone, Imaginary Girls, and most recently, The Walls Around Us. And almost like the open mic nights of my college days, I knew the person at the mic sharing her words. I used to proofread for her. Just like me, for years Nova worked in publishing and was a production editor. Just like me, she wrote on the side and had dreams of quitting her day job and doing the writing thing full-time. Unlike me (so far, at least), she actually made the leap, and quite successfully at that. Her books now frequently show up on must-read lists, and the writing workshops she teaches have a devoted following. Basically, she's living the dream. And now that I've read her work (which is pretty great, by the way) I'm glad that she didn't put her writing on the back burner, something she'd get to eventually, one day, maybe. I'm not saying it's possible for everyone to quit their job and throw themselves into their art full-time. I haven't been able to do it yet, after all. But wow, when a person is able to do it, great things can come of it.
Nova in conversation with fellow author Libba Bray.
In the audience I spotted Nova's former HarperCollins boss, who attends lots of her appearances, and an editor friend of mine who I hadn't even realized also knew Nova. While I waited in line to have my books signed, I ended up meeting a publicist who works for Simon & Schuster Children's Books, which will be publishing my book this summer. We talked for a while about what a small world publishing is. When I finally got to the front of the line (Nova had drawn a huge, somewhat unruly crowd), she thanked me for coming and for always being so supportive of her career.

But it was I who should have been thanking her. Even though now, not everyone in the audience knows one another, and most of us hop into cars or onto trains heading our separate ways into distant corners of the five boroughs, I still felt for a while like I did back in college, listening to a friend share her work with a roomful of writers and readers who wanted nothing more than to listen, support, and be inspired. Nice job, Nova.

Nova Ren Suma at the McNally Jackson bookstore reading from The Walls Around Us.

No comments:

Post a Comment