Friday, December 31, 2010

On Visiting Writers

When I applied to Montana, one of the lures was I saw writer crush Aimee Bender on the schedule as a visiting writer. O palpitating heart! What’s more, Bender lived up to the dream. She was funny and smart and conducted positive yet insightful workshops. 2007 was the Year of the Rugged Manfictioners, so we women writers followed her around like imprinted goslings.

Since then I’ve met many visiting writers. Robin Hemley, Charles D’Ambrosio, Mary Gaitskill—to name a few. Here at Ohio U, we get to have lunch. At this opportunity, I perk up, for I am great at lunch. I can lunch like a Mad Men exec. I may or may not be able to write, but sandwiches and beverages, I can do.

Then I went to NonfictioNOW. This was a great conference. It was. I met an amazing variety of writers, many well-known, respected people I had heard about. It was all going so well. Then, I was about to introduce myself to a writer I love, who has impacted my life (no kidding), and whose presentation I had purposefully stalked, when I felt a complete and utter hopelessness. (although I can't rule out the Ethiopian food) What was the point? I would say hi. She would say hi. I would make my witty remark. Haha, she would reply. Chit then chat. And scene.

I had hit the visiting writer saturation point.

I kind of blame George Saunders. After him, it’s as though there’s no point in another visiting writer. He gave a great lecture. He gave a great reading. He was personable and put everyone at ease. He does a great lunch. He graciously praised the bio I wrote for our Literary Festival tabloid. He remembered my name. He went out for a beer (but not too many beers) at the local writer’s bar, where he did NOT grope or ogle the doe-eyed ladies who followed him around like imprinted goslings. (Question: Why do men not imprint?)

Then he was gone.

That. Was that.

As MFAers, when we show our work to the visiting writers, we are supposedly in search of feedback. What we are really hoping is that they will weep with joy, curse our genius and race to call their agents. Or at least one might take in interest in us. Or suggest we submit this piece someplace they have an in. It’s not that this never happens, I suppose. But it’s never happened to anyone I know. That I know of.

Because what you realize, is that all these writers are visiting other programs and residencies and whatever else all the time. In other words, they are seeing other people. This is an open relationship. And writers are usually not editors or agents. Rather, they are trying to get their work out there just like us. And that’s their priority. They aren’t talent scouts.

Mostly, I’ve realized that what I learn from visiting writers, is how to be a visiting writer.

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