Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing superheroes, those people who have shown me what it really means to be a writer. What I’ve realized is that in writing (as it is with most heroic feats) it’s not always the people you think of as heroes that end up saving the day. More often than not, the most compelling heroes appear to be regular people but when challenges arise they prove that they are indeed superheroes. Today I wanted to give a shout-out to a few of my own writing superheroes and also find out who your heroes are.
Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (AKA 826NYC)
This particular group of writing superheroes don’t just run a superhero supply store (though that, in and of itself, is awesome in my book). Behind a curtain and through a hidden door at the back of the store, you discover something even more amazing: a place where kids learn to write, and they love going there.
When you step into the tutoring center, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the energy. Whether they’re there for a class field trip, or after-school tutoring, or a special workshop, the kids are SO excited. In fact, some parents even have a hard time getting kids to stop writing and go home at the end of a session or workshop. And the grown-ups who work or volunteer there are really excited to be there as well.
If you’re not familiar with 826 National and their mission, you should check out their site. There are branches across the country but 826NYC in Brooklyn holds a special place in my heart. I began volunteering with them the semester before I graduated with my MFA. It was the amazing staff at 826NYC who first believed in me as a writing teacher, giving me the opportunities and guidance I needed to build experience and take my teaching to the next level.
If you’ve ever been a newbie at something and had someone (or a group of someones) take a chance on you, you know how huge that is. It might not be huge in other people’s eyes, but to you it’s epic. That’s what the folks at 826NYC did for me, and they will always be epic superheroes in my eyes.
Backspace Writer’s Conference Team
Karen Dionne and Chris Graham, founders and masterminds behind Backspace: The Writer’s Place, are my writing conference heroes. I’ve been to many conferences and I’ve had several conference-related adventures. I attended one conference last year while nine-months pregnant (to the day!) and the organizers were very supportive and helpful but all that pales in comparison to the heroic feats accomplished by the Backspace team during the Agent-Author Seminar this past month.
The event was scheduled two days after Hurricane Sandy hit NYC and it was in one of the southern-most hotels in Manhattan that still had power. It was surreal because while the block of the hotel seemed perfectly normal, just one or two blocks over everything was dark and deserted. While many agents and attendees were stranded without power or otherwise unable to make it, the show still went on, and it took some logistical acrobatics to make it happen. For writers unable to make the event, there were conference call lines so they could still participate in the small group workshops. Agents unable to attend also called in. There was a lot of on-the-spot rescheduling and reshuffling that must have been an organizational nightmare. Through it all Karen, Chris and their team handled it with grace and good humor.
I’ve been to conferences where writers meet with agents for feedback and usually in these situations there’s a tension, a weird vibe in the air. Not so with the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar. At this event I saw writers, agents and conference staff roll with the punches and help each other out when things didn’t go as planned. And when all else failed, people kept a positive attitude and sense of humor, opting for a good chuckle than for melodrama. This positive atmosphere only happens when the people in charge lead by example, and Karen and Chris did just that.
I was born and raised in NYC. There are famous writers, artists, musicians, actors and politicians everywhere, but I think I can count on one hand the number of celebrities I’ve ever spotted in my entire life. This is because I was trained from an early age not to make eye-contact (and, heaven forbid, small-talk!) with strangers in public. Instead, as a true New Yorker, you’re supposed to keep your mouth shut and your eyes on the sidewalk so you don’t step on something disgusting.
Flash forward to the J.K. Rowling event. First of all, the place was packed. I’m terrible at estimating numbers in situations like this but suffice to say that it was the David Koch theater (which seats a little over 2500 people) and with the exception of the seats way at the top, it was a full house.
But what floored me was Ms. Rowling herself. She was as gracious and witty as I hoped she’d be, but she was also unbelievably normal. Despite all the celebrity and money and hoopla that the Harry Potter books have led to, the person behind those books turned out to be… a person. Imagine that.
After the interview and reading, the audience members filed out row by row to receive their copy of The Casual Vacancy and have J.K. Rowling sign it. We’re talking easily over 2000 copies of the book, which is a monstrous feat for any author. I was certain at least some of them would be pre-signed, but there she was sitting at the table and marker in hand, signing each and every book.
When my turn came I handed her my copy. I restrained myself from gushing and instead uttered something completely unimaginative that she had probably heard from hundreds of adoring fans that evening. She signed my book and when she handed it back looked me right in the eye, smiled and said “thank you.”
For someone not used to making eye-contact with celebrities, this was in and of itself incredible but what truly astounded me was that J.K. Rowling made eye-contact and thanked every single person whose book she signed. And for this reason, J.K. Rowling is one of my writing superheroes.
Who are your writing superheroes and why?
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