Connect better

 

pushcart

Human relationship is full of disconnection. We misunderstand, we miss opportunities, we misjudge. “Every intense relationship between human beings is full of traps,” wrote Elena Ferrante, “and if you want it to endure you have to learn to avoid them.”[1] This reality, in part, drives writers. In spite of the frequent experience of disconnection, or maybe because of it, we strive to connect through stories.

Last week I received some thrilling news. A short story that was published last year in The Austin Review, “Salt,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I’m still processing the honour that this represents. When things are intense, I write to try to dissipate that energy, or repackage it somehow. When I don’t understand, I write in an attempt to make sense. When I feel misunderstood, I write to be understood.

“When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world,” wrote Zadie Smith, in her essay Fail Better. “That’s what I am looking for when I read a novel; one person’s truth as far as it can be rendered through language.” In that struggle to express the truth of my way of being in the world, I’m feel I’m connected to her and all writers in an unbroken chain that reaches through history and around the world.

Ferrante famously eschews the cult of celebrity by refusing public appearances, and has argued that this decision was not only freeing for her but also created the conditions for more intimate connection with the work. As a creative writing teacher, I’ve taught stories that acquainted my students with writers I love via stories about a chance meeting in Yalta[2], an imagined future in coastal Ireland[3], a stolen wallet in New York[4], and a struggle for power in a steam bath in Mexico City[5]. It’s no small thrill to connect with American readers I will never meet via a story I wrote about a night drive in southern Ontario.

Which brings me back to The Pushcart Prize. Pushcart Press is one of the last surviving co-ops from the 1960s-70s. It began and continues to be a paean to the written word without regard for commerce. It’s sustained by endowments and an army of unpaid volunteers and has been recognized many times over as a distinguished and influential contributor to arts and letters in America.

In this past year, through this story and my debut novel, I’ve come to know some of the publishers and editors and volunteers who helped my words find their readers, here in Canada and in the US. It has been a truly humbling experience to discover the scores of tireless and passionate people who sustain the literary arts with their presses, granting programs, reading series and festivals, literary journals, competitions, and the enormous gift of their enthusiasm and engagement.

So this note is also my thanks for the tireless efforts and acts of faith that went into establishing a new journal that promotes new voices. That effort connects Michael Barrett, Tatiana Ryckman, Vincent Scarpa, and Peter McCrady at The Austin Review in Austin, Texas to founding Pushcart editors Bill Henderson, Joyce Carol Oates and Ralph Elison in Yonkers, NY, where that press began. Their efforts sustain, nourish, and connect us all.

 

[1] The Story of the Lost Child

[2] “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekov

[3] “Ox Mountain Death Song” by Kevin Barry

[4] “Found Objects” by Jennifer Egan

[5] “Mexican Manifesto” by Roberto Bolaño

 

 

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