During my time in the Stonecoast MFA program, I was lucky to meet Meredith Hall, whose essays I had read in Creative Nonfiction. She gave a rousing guest lecture that stirred up strong feelings for many of us, about thinking bigger, about being generous with our stories, and bringing everything to the page, not holding back.
Mostly what I remember is this advice: Be audacious in what you go after -- and go after a lot. Age doesn't matter! Apply for grants! Seek residencies! Enter contests! Be bold! Why not you?
I went home, bought her memoir, Without A Map, read it in one afternoon. We exchanged friendly emails. I reread her book again slowly, and realized she'd grown up in the same New Hampshire town as my husband's cousin. A few quick emails confirmed that they were once good friends, and Meredith also remembered my sister-in-law, a frequent New Hampshire visitor during their childhoods. I was able to put them all back in touch, and that felt wonderful.
It would be enough if the circle ended there. But there's more.
After hearing Meredith at Stonecoast, I began submitting my work more often, and entered my first contest with an essay about visiting my father in the hospital in Las Vegas. It placed second in the Charles Simic Graduate Student Writing Contest, and with the honor came a bit of cash and publication in Barnstorm, the journal edited by the MFA program at University of New Hampshire.
Though energies and enthusiasm sometimes flag, I've kept entering, submitting, applying, and often while doing so, I think of Meredith. I interviewed her for my research thesis, and for an anthology of craft and publishing advice.
The circle widens.
After I began teaching and coaching writers, I got an email from someone I would get to know as a lovely writer and delightful person. I remember Alyssa Martino's first email because at the moment it arrived, I was waiting for another flight in the Las Vegas airport, where I'd been visiting my ill mother. I was glad for a distraction from my sadness.
Alyssa signed up for an online classes, then to continue working on essays and memoir pieces, and finally to shape and polish her portfolio to accompany applications to MFA programs.
Where does she land but at University of New Hampshire, and in whose class does she find herself? Meredith Hall's. I've had such fun hearing from Alyssa periodically, about how much she's learned from Meredith, and the deep satisfaction she's experiencing developing her writing craft. Tell Meredith hello! I've often written back. Meredith says hi! she's replied.
When I send a newsletter about something I've accomplished, a reply invariably arrives from Meredith: thinking of you...congratulations...delighted and not surprised...such lovely news. When I look back at craft notes taken during the MFA, she's there too.
Now, Alyssa is working toward graduation, building her own teaching skills, and working on the editorial staff of...Barnstorm. One of her responsibilities is to interview writers for a section called The Writer's Hot Seat. A few months ago, she asked to interview me.
I'm so pleased the interview is now up at Barnstorm.
I'm tempted to say the circle now feels complete.
But I know better.