Back to the homeland: NYC

I’m still buzzing from a dynamic weekend in NYC. I saw family, covered a lot of ground (Bronx to the Battery!), and attended the Rutgers One-on-One Conference.

The Rutgers One-on-One conference is a different kind of conference: it feels very focused, very professional. Writers must submit their work and an essay in order to be accepted, and an equal number of industry professionals are invited. I was paired up with an energetic agent named Carrie Pestritto from Prospect Agency, and she had insightful things to say about my novel pages, my query letter, my list of next projects, and more. What a dynamo she is!

I'm here in this crowd, taking it all in at the Rutgers One-on-One.
I’m here in this crowd, taking it all in at the Rutgers One-on-One.

I met several other wonderful writers, editors and agents during the day, and I left feeling very directed, energized, and sure that I am on the right path with my current work, my middle-grade novel Tomfoolery.

With my daughter Rose, I also hit a few spots in NYC that I have been meaning to get to: the Poets House and the Irish Famine Memorial in Battery Park. For a college paper, Rose interviewed author and educator Zetta Elliott about the need for more diversity in children’s literature… and I got to pop in at the end and meet Zetta, too!

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With my cousin, I went up to the borough I was born in, the Bronx. We stopped by the church where her and my parents were married, St. Luke’s in the South Bronx (where I teach a poetry workshop once a year)– now home to a new generation of immigrants from Ghana. We marveled at the way that St. Luke’s has always welcomed and educated immigrants– children of Irish immigrants like our parents, children of immigrants from Africa and Latin America now. We also stopped by the new Bronx Brewery and sampled micro-brews… right in the South Bronx! Who knew!

Bronx Brewery in the South Bronx
Bronx Brewery in the South Bronx

Now I am back on quiet Cape Cod, ready to dive into my novel and polish it up. My heart and head were filled to the brim on my trip… now it’s time to settle in and get this novel ready to send!

Irish Famine Memorial in Battery Park
Irish Famine Memorial in Battery Park

Poetry Love in the South Bronx

I recently received a bundle of letters from the kids at St. Luke’s School in the South Bronx. I delivered a poetry presentation there in the spring, using Jacqueline Woodson‘s BROWN GIRL DREAMING and Kwame Alexander‘s THE CROSSOVER as mentor texts.

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St. Luke’s is located in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. “Mott Haven has changed a lot in the past couple of decades, but it is still full of good people who struggle mightily to overcome difficult economic challenges.” (St. Luke’s newsletter)

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My mother, Kitty Cronin, attended St. Luke’s as a child, the daughter of immigrants who were trying to make their way in a new country. Many of the children I met at St. Luke’s are navigating that same path, decades later.

Kitty Cronin

Kitty Cronin, back in the 1940’s

The seventh and eighth graders I spoke to were vibrant, earnest, and they fell in love with the two texts, which I gave to their teacher as a gift.

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Their interest in poetry and love of literature are apparent in their notes, which I will treasure.

SLS pic Kitty

I sent them a note in return– telling them I got to meet Kwame Alexander at a writing conference (New England SCBWI).

Kwame Alexander + M

I told Kwame about the kids who loved his book in the South Bronx, and he sent his greetings, which I passed on!

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Can’t wait to go back to St. Luke’s next year!

#poetrylove

Writing as Service

A friend of mine recently used the term “writing as service.” Bells starting chiming in my brain.

Writing can be seen as many things: a creative outlet, a hobby or job, a business and source of income, a way of connecting to others. But the concept of writing as a way of doing service in the world* was both familiar and new to me, all at the same time.

The concept of writing as service is a balm to my soul when the “business” of writing starts chafing too deeply, when I find myself thinking too much about agents and editors and publishers and manuscript wish lists. Those noises begin to drown out the creative hum of actually writing. And those noises start to create negative associations, blocking the connection between “writing” and “pleasure.”

Teaching creative writing to an under-served population is a form of service. When I go to the Barnstable County Correctional Facility and teach writing to incarcerated women, I feel inspired, blessed, and lucky to be a writer. When I taught a recent poetry workshop at St. Luke’s School in the South Bronx, I was enriched by the experience: by the kids who blossomed as they wrote, by the ones who sought me out to make a momentary, personal connection, by the adults who wanted to talk to me about writing. Again, I came away energized, refreshed, inspired.

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Writing something that serves as a mirror or window for another person also feels like writing as service. I’ve had that experience, too, with my essays, with work I have shared in writing workshops or elsewhere. That chime of connection rings deep in my soul. I’m sure you’ve had that, too.

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As I navigate the crooked and sometimes bumpy path of being a writer, I will keep this concept of writing as service close to me. I will use it to keep me grounded, to drown out the “static” of the writing life, to focus on the important quests: putting words on the page, and using my writing to somehow enrich the world. That, I’m convinced, will sustain me for the long road ahead.

(Thanks to Elisabeth Booze for our conversation about this term!)