They came to my Creative Nonfiction classes and workshops in Taos, New Mexico, harboring the same dreams: to write and publish books containing their own, personal truths.
They were older adults, close to or already past retirement age, highly educated, successful professionals from a number of fields, such as business, medicine, academia, the arts. They’d written before, of course, some even Ph.D. theses, but never about themselves. They wanted to learn how to write more informally, less pretentiously, more friend-to-friend-across-the- kitchen-table and less lecturer-at-the-lectern.
They had stories to tell, and they wanted to tell them clearly and compellingly, so that even their families would one day want to read them. They knew that this process – learning a new way of writing, like a new way of living – would take humility and determination, but they were in it for the long haul. No one seemed to have any illusions about writing a best-seller and becoming a rich and famous author. We were all beyond the age of illusions.
We met once a week and sat around a table. They brought decent drafts (never first drafts because first drafts are just too raw to serve up to anyone – “not even your mother,” I’d insist) to read to the group for their honest and constructive (never mean or destructive) critiques and suggestions for betterment. I stressed active listening. (“Listening is an act of love,” I would preach weekly.) I kept close tabs on timing and made sure all was fair.
They made impressive progress, which was immensely heartening. I felt like an OBGYN whose patients’ pregnancies were proceeding beautifully.
And then, four years ago this month, I retired to San Miguel de Allende, leaving those students and their books-in-progress behind. They didn’t quit, though. They kept on meeting, sharing, listening to and profiting from each other’s feedback. They were hell-bent on seeing their dreams come true.
And now, to date (maybe there’ll be more to come?), I have six books sitting on a prominent shelf here in my little apartment in San Miguel sent to me by six of my former students, each personally inscribed inside. These books are testaments to me that dreams can come true.
Listed below, most recent first, with a little bit about each, they are:
- The Wellman Stories, by Margaret J. Hansen (Nighthawk Press, Taos, NM, 2019): In these brilliantly told stories readers travel down country roads to the rural town of Wellman, Iowa, and peek behind a curtain of corn to learn from two women – partners and chiropractors – who unwittingly challenge the status quo and political mindset of this small, provincial community.
- Long Time Lost, by Patricia Pollard (Nighthawk Press, Taos, NM, 2018): In this unsparingly candid memoir, artist and writer Pat Pollard chronicles her journey from unloved adopted child to incapable mother, and in so doing puts the painful chaos of love and relationships in a woman’s life into human perspective.
- Keepin’ On: Living Well with Parkinson’s Disease, by Robert J. Silver (Nighthawk Press, Taos, NM, 2018): Psychologist by background, storyteller by nature, and Parkinson’s patient by chance, Bob Silver recounts in this memoir the challenges, disappointments, and occasional triumphs in his struggle with this disease. Written for those who are similarly afflicted and for those who care for them, Keepin’ On is Bob’s effort to inoculate readers against the soul-savaging corrosiveness of hopelessness, despair, and diminishment that attends Parkinson’s.
- From Salt to Sage, by Lorraine Lener Ciancio (Nighthawk Press, Taos, NM, 2017): In this collection, poet, photographer, and essayist Lorraine Ciancio generously shares her gifts in the form of poems, photos, and essays, which she calls “subjective snapshots that linger in the album of my memory.” Taking a nonlinear route, readers travel with her from the salty Atlantic coast of her youth to the sagebrush of northern New Mexico where she later settled – and then back east again.
- Surviving Myself: The True-Life Adventures of a Lucky, Risk-Taking Voluptuary, by Fred Fair (Crescent Press, Taos, NM, 2017): In Fred’s own words, Surviving Myself “is a collection of true stories about the times I’ve nearly missed maiming or killing myself during one adventure or another. While I like to think it’s been skill that’s cheated death, I know in my heart it’s been pure dumb luck.” This fearless adventurer, businessman, and daredevil pilot weaves wickedly funny tales that only he could tell and tell so well.
- Stories, Sketches & Snapshots, by Margery Reading (Taos, NM, 2016): Psychologist and artist Marge Reading says in her Author’s Note: “I am not a quilter or a weaver or a knitter. But I’ve attempted to weave together memories of loved ones, of things that happened during my childhood and later life that offer an understanding of time periods and people who lived them.” Marge wrote this book for her family, as a “quilt of stories” meant as a gift “to warm them.”
I cannot take credit for my former students’ excellence. Their talent, intelligence, and tenacity are their own. Perhaps I had a hand, though, early on, in fostering their dreams, in believing the books these six people had inside of them would emerge and embrace others. And for this alone I’m feeling really proud right now.
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For more about the small indie publisher Nighthawk Press in Taos, New Mexico, (which is also my publisher), visit: www.nighthawkpress.com .
To contact the book designer and producer Barbara Scott of Final Eyes, who has had a hand in making many Nighthawk books (including my own, and all of the books above) so beautiful, go to: www.finaleyes.net .
To read an excerpt from Bob Silver’s book, go to: www.bonnieleeblack.com/quality of life/ .
To read my 2015 interview with Pat Pollard, go to: www.bonnieleeblack.com/pat pollard/ .
And to read more about Lorraine Ciancio’s and Marge Reading’s books, go to: www.bonnieleeblack.com/other people other places/ .