Hello, it’s Adair Heitmann writing to you today. Earlier this month I heard Colum McCann, National Book Award Winner 2009 and author of Let the Great World Spin speak at Fairfield University. I’ll share my take-ways from his lecture later on in this blog. Then earlier this morning I finished reading Daughters of the Stone by first-time novelist Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa. The bookends in my mind of those two authors, one award-winning with several best-selling books, and the other a fresh, new author prompted thinking about writing and reading and relationships in new ways. There are five phases to this train of inquiry:
1. Writer and Self – Every one of us starts with our relationship to the words we write. We do our research, hone our intellect, troll our emotions and craft our message, rhythm and words.
2. Writer and Story – We then form a relationship with the story we write. As Colum McCann shared, he filled 15 volumes of research notes and then never looked at them again once his fictional characters started writing their own stories. I write non-fiction and I am amazed at the way a poem, book or essay reveals the real story to me as I write it. Many times it is not what I intended, but it is always better.
3. Writer and Reader – Once our words go into print or online the relationship between what we say and our readers becomes paramount. Stinging tears streamed down my cheeks this morning as I finished Llanos-Figueroa’s book. Her story and powerful characters touched a place deep inside me. I knew those five generations of Afro-Puerto Rican women even though my own ancestry is Scottish-Kentucky-Virginian. We formed a personal bond through the telling of a good story.
4. Writer and Broader Audience – At Author Talks, we see and hear the writer of the books we read, our relationship becomes one of flesh and bones, nuance and impression. Irish author McCann said in his lecture that he wrote Let the Great World Spin as “a new way to talk about war.” I had read the book, loved it, but never thought of it that way until I heard him speak about his experiences in New York City before writing the book. For me his book was all about the relationships between his unusual characters and their relationships to one fleeting artistic moment in time.
5. Reader and Sharing the Story – All of us have said to a friend, relative or co-worker, “You have got to read this book.” or “Have you read such-and-such yet?” Books are a universal language of connection and community. We, as readers take the authors’ words and broadcast them like seeds, planting the kernels in diverse areas, nurturing their growth. We pass the stories along, like a human inheritance.