When I first started writing, I'd ride my bike to work. I always had an office job and a gallery job, two or three or more part-time jobs piled up on top of each other. I still have a version of that. In the early evening, on the way home I'd swing by Powell's. I'd rather ride my bike in the dark than during a rush hour commute, and Powell's Books was a place to wait out the most traffic-filled hour and a half or so. I'd read, drink coffee, and almost every night it seemed there was an author reading, if I wanted to stick around.
Dropping by the constant stream of readings at Powell's in that casual way had a lot to do with making the possibility of being a writer real for me. There were writers around, all the time.
One memorable night I saw Joy Williams. Williams is the author of many books, including, State of Grace, which I'd just finished reading at the time. She's since written The Quick and the Dead, and Ill Nature, and more. When I saw her read, she was deeply tanned. That was exotic! She was a visitor to our land of rain and clouds. She was wearing all white, layer on layer, with a big silver necklace laying low against her clavicle. As I remember it, her lips were dry, and cracked, and during the reading started bleeding. It wasn't a lot of blood, but enough to make me worry about her pure white, draped shirt. She didn't worry. She kept going. She was fantastic; her reading was troubling and brilliant. I cooked up a plan, and eventually I went to the University of Arizona, where she was teaching, for grad school.
I studied with Joy Williams, inspired by seeing her at Powell's.
Now my second novel is out. This week I've had the thrill of being the author behind the podium. Such a fantastic crowd! During the Q&A after the reading, I was happy to be able to call on people by name, to be reminded of how wonderful the Portland writing community is. It's not always easy ? writing is hard. Staying in one place, growing up, sometimes making mistakes, watching everybody struggle along together as we build lives, can be a complicated navigation. But staying in one place is rewarding, in this way of feeling close to so many wonderful people. I'm thankful for all of it.
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