By Catherine Chambers
As the 2015 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference draws near, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences since I attended the 2014 conference in Seattle. In the past year, I found, applied to, and was accepted by Goddard College's BFA in Creative Writing program after a two-year break from school to work for a circus troupe in Dallas, Texas. I had my first piece of writing (incidentally, based on an encounter I had during the conference) published in a literary journal, moved to a new state, and chose the career of “writer” for myself.
Previously, writing had been a hobby for me, one that I enjoyed but didn’t feel that I was especially good at. I began to write memoir pieces about my experience in the circus, an abusive relationship, and my childhood, but I didn’t feel “legit” writing about these things. Everyone had these problems, I thought. Nothing made me any more special than the next memoirist who loved her mom and made some bad choices in the love department.
At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Nicole Hardy, author of Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin: A Memoir. She, along with with Suzanne Morrison and Claire Dederer, presented a panel on humor in memoirs by women. It was the first panel I attended at #AWP14, and I was completely taken with all three women, Nicole Hardy especially. After the panel, I was walking around with my two best friends (Hi Janice! Hi Jenna!) and we stopped at a booth about ten feet from Nicole. My friends urged me to go talk to her, but I was having a hard time with my words. I couldn't believe I could just walk up to her?!
I did eventually get up the courage, and Nicole gave me a hug. I asked her if I could ask for writing advice, and she said that I could ask her anything. My questions were: “What if my story is average compared to someone else’s? What if my experiences aren’t extraordinary?”
Her answer: “It doesn’t matter. All your experiences can be extraordinary. It’s not the quantity of stories you tell; it’s the quality of your storytelling.” From that moment, my perspective of my own writing shifted. I started taking steps to better myself as a storyteller, rather than worrying that my life wasn’t interesting enough to merit the title of “memoirist.” Following that illuminating experience, I found Goddard, I found confidence in my craft, and eventually, I found beauty in everyday experiences.
I will be live-tweeting my #AWP15 experience as I represent Duende with Managing Editor Amy Sterne, Non-Fiction Editor Jørn Otte, and Faculty Advisor/Editor-in-Chief Wendy Call. Come by the Duende booth and take a selfie with us, talk writing with us, or come by just for a hug. Let's #MeetandTweet
We would especially love a photo-op with any of our contributors! See you in Minneapolis!