A few years ago I made a New Year’s Resolution to write to authors whose work was particularly transformative in some way for me. It was late December at the time, the time for all New Year’s Resolutions, and being a high school teacher, the time for one of my two annual binge reading sessions. I was quasi-chaperoning a high school band trip to perform in a half time show in Jacksonville, FL. We spent long hours on a coach bus and I had books and knitting to keep me company since I knew the teenagers (my own child included) would be busy texting each other from their seats.
I read The Shipping News on that bus ride and was moved by it. I remember when it came out in the early 1990s and everyone was reading it even before it won the Pulitzer. But I hadn’t, and on a whim grabbed it from the library to stick in my book bag for our long trip. It was the kind of book that stayed with me, like The Kite Runner and All The Pretty Horses. Why did these books stay with me? Because they took me to places and times right here on this Earth that I would never get a chance to experience and scaled it down to the human level. I thought to myself, “These authors are alive; I should write to them to tell them how much I learn from their book(s).” E. Annie Proulx (author of TSN) was tough to locate for me, though, so the idea fizzled.
The school year cranked back up and then my summer work grading AP calculus exams followed in June. By July I was ready to binge read again. A friend shared “Graduation”, a short story by Roxana Robinson she thought I would like. This short story gripped me like no other. I thought, “Let me see if I can contact this author.” Her website has a ‘contact us’ tab and after clicking it and scrolling through the publisher information I found a little box to send an email. So I sent her an email! And she emailed me back! I couldn’t find the email exchange for this post but if I do, I’ll include it later.
They always say the third time is the charm.
Fast forward to December 2019. I read John Grisham’s newest The Guardians. This story, like many of his recent stories, taught me about the work of innocence projects nationwide by bringing it to a human scale. Like Gray Mountain (strip mining for coal) and The Rooster Bar (for profit law schools), Grisham is using the power of the pen to not just tell a tale but to educate us about the voiceless, preyed-upon citizens in our country. If you think Grisham only pumps out legal thrillers that have the same plot line year after year, you are wrong. I encourage you to read some of his recent work.
I decided to write to John Grisham in early January and tell him how much I learned from his books. That they weren’t just entertainment for me but educational. Two days ago I got a package in the mail. It was Sycamore Row, inscribed to me. I was blown away.
So, if in these days of COVID-19, you are not too strung out home schooling your children, exhausted from making videos for your students, or one of the essential workers keeping everyone safe and fed right now, consider writing to your favorite author(s). They’ll be even more delighted to get your letter since they are hunkered down too.
NOTE: It is said that most authors write back. I am two for two. Laura Ingalls Wilder answered her fan mail, some times as many as 50+ letters a day, by hand. Click here to read about my pilgrimage to the house where she wrote.