I registered for the event twice. I looted my local library shelves of three Edwidge Danticat novels. I read her writing craft book electronically. Then I drove into downtown Denver past young professionals and homeless camps and arrived at the Saturday workshop this Haitian-born author was to lead. I was early. I sat in a front row seat, blood buzzing in my veins.
Writing is such a solitary activity that any event that pulls word pushers out from their lonely spaces to mingle, speak, and listen to others is bound to be full of inspiration. And because of the pandemic, it had been a year and a half since Danticat was supposed to have arrived in Denver to speak with other writers and readers. And suddenly, in she walked.
She spoke about how COVID had showed people of every ilk what the solitary world of writers is like.
“The world learned how writers live locked in a room, trying to get inspiration from the air,” she said.
She also spoke about the idea of mortality—which has consumed the world since February 2020. “So much of writing about death involves writing about life,” she said.
You may know Danticat and you may not. You may google her and read her stories, you may not. She is award-winning and well-published with nearly two dozen novels, short story collections, young adult and children’s books, memoirs, essays, and anthologies edited. She also holds an MFA in writing from Brown and honorary degrees from Smith and Yale. Her career and accomplishments are impressive.
Most impressive this month was that she was also very generous. She listened as a few workshop participants read what they had written during the 10-minute exercise she led for us. She commented positively and asked to hear from others. She answered questions from the audience. I asked her about her writing process. And this was the most helpful thing to me since it is so similar to my own process. She said that her words don’t land gracefully on the page straight out of the chute, but that she edits heavily.
This was a great relief to me. Raw talent would never be enough for me to land in Oprah’s Book Club—where Danticat has been since the early ‘90s. But editing heavily means that hard work pays off.
Honing skills and working hard are for anyone with energy and drive. Talent and luck are sprinkled around more arbitrarily it seems. And of course, as Eminem so famously rapped, opportunity comes once in a lifetime.
I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to hear Danticat in Denver. I hope we are now best friends. Meeting her isn’t much of a travel story for this travel-themed blog. But the old adage that books take us to places we would otherwise never go, is true enough. And inspiration can also give us a ride further than any plane, train, or automobile. Hopefully this blog, though perhaps only a handcart on a railroad through the desert, can be some sort of transport for you as well. Thanks for reading.