In July, I spent 1.5 weeks at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee. I learned so much from my instructors and cohort, a dizzying array of special topics classes, readings, and lectures. I’ve jokingly called it “writer summer camp” because of the lakeside bonfires, ghost walks, and early morning hikes where we casually foraged for chanterelle mushrooms. But along with the camp vibes came the initial anxiety of meeting new people and making friends. Being in a literal college dorm only added to that “first day of school” anticipation.
It was a large conference and naturally began with a lot of small talk. Where are you coming from? Which workshop are you in? But as the days progressed, faces grew more familiar and conversations branched into far-reaching directions. It was wonderful getting to deepen existing friendships too, like a friend I met at Kenyon last year (a true camp buddy!) and a friend who recently joined my writing group with whom I shared a bathroom. (We joked that we’ve now seen every variation of each other’s outfits.)
When I read this great piece by Jason Prokowiew about “Good Art Friends” after coming back from the conference, it resonated deeply with me:
My good art friends make me laugh. We share bottles of wine and fashion impromptu salons when we’re together to share our work. We listen, knowing the hours lost and exhaustion gained from the work. When I get stuck for inspiration or how to start the next page, they often guide me where I need to go, sometimes just by nodding and commiserating. Their work makes me think differently, and I want to know all about it. We cheer for the occasional victories, whine about the ubiquitous rejections, and convince one another again and again not to give up.
What exactly distinguishes “good art friends”? How do shared creative pursuits add dimension and texture to our relationships?
These friends might be closer to your work as your accountability buddies or members of your writing group. They might be the person who sends the best memes in the group chat or documents your IRL/virtual hangouts. As Prokowiew writes, we commiserate, celebrate, and motivate. We read drafts, provide feedback, co-write in silence, share opportunities, and answer questions. We nerd out about our obsessions and literary crushes. We are each other’s literary crushes. We retweet each other’s work with effusive praise and relish in being “destroyed” by it. We have context for each other’s highs and lows. We understand that most of our writing lives are in the messy middle.
Good art friends help you understand all the ways you can be a writer. They may be people at different life stages, people with or without MFAs, people who teach, people who work full-time, people who are parents or caretakers. It reminds me that people are endlessly changing even while writing remains a constant. At the same time, what I value so much about workshops and conferences is that they’re spaces where we are all writers first.
I revisit this quote by Hanya Yanagihara from A Little Life about friendship often:
Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.
We understand all the ways that writing and life are intertwined. Good art friends are a witness to all that changes. We understand how priorities shift. We see the steady accumulation of effort, act as sounding boards, and encourage each other to take risks. It’s been wonderful seeing friends of mine finish MFA programs, get engaged, make job transitions, take yearlong novel incubators, prepare to move internationally, and more.
And of course, good art friends are just friends. They’re people with whom you can watch a Netflix movie in a dorm room, or belt out a Robyn song at karaoke, or lie out in the sun on the dock of a lake like lizards, each engrossed in your own book. Sometimes, words aren’t even needed.
- Page Turner: The Asian American Writers’ Workshop Publishing Conference will be in-person this Saturday, August 19, in New York. Tickets will also be available via YouTube livestream for a discounted price. The conference will focus on the work and experiences of writers of color.
- “The Merch-ification of Book Publishing” by Madeline Diamond
- Rachel Heng on not translating non-English words in her writing: “The desire to know more, to understand more, may seem harmless to those who demand glossaries. But in centering themselves as the primary audience, this desire reveals itself to be a colonizing impulse, an owning impulse.”
- If you’re still looking for summer reading recommendations, check NYT’s multigenre roundup.
- I loved this interview with author Kevin Wilson (a professor at Sewanee!) about the importance of rural and Southern settings, being married to a fellow writer, and his pragmatic writing life and how it’s changed over the years.
Recent reads & other media
I read two short story collections, How to Wrestle a Girl: Stories by Venita Blackburn (lots of incredible flash fiction) and At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid (stories that read more like prose poems). I’ve been unwittingly on a time travel kick with Flux by Jinwoo Chong and I’m halfway through This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. Flux is one of the most interesting tech worker novels I’ve read recently, as it blends speculative, noir, and sci-fi elements with really gorgeous prose.
The Center for Fiction has been doing a Summer Reading Challenge, which has been fun to participate in! Here’s the reading challenge and an optional bingo card:
My friend and I watched Wedding Season for a roomie movie night at Sewanee. E and I watched Barbie (sublime!) and Rye Lane, a really great 90 minute rom com that feels like a funnier British version of Before Sunrise. I really enjoyed this profile of Greta Gerwig and Leslie Jamison’s essay about Barbie’s existential crisis. We begrudgingly finished Ted Lasso. Despite having bloated runtimes of 75+ minutes (when this show started as a half hour comedy), they just didn’t know what to do with their characters or pacing.
My sister and I saw THE Beyoncé and I almost cried at her perfection. Some friends and I saw Carly Rae Jepsen and we danced to “Cut to the Feeling” while on a rooftop.
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~ meme myself and i ~
Oppenheimer in IMAX but you had to sit in the front row. Barbie spoilers without context. Playing cat peekaboo. All my feminist literature books. POV: walking around the house waiting for your nail polish to dry. Get ready ~without~ me.