I attended the inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival this past weekend and was surprised at how inspired I felt when I left.
I had thought listening to other writers talk about themselves wouldn’t help with my writing because there weren’t any workshops on how to write or sessions with agents and publishers; there wasn’t anything on the schedule about the art, craft, or business of writing. The event consisted of bestselling writers talking about their lives and writing, with a little bit of live reading. Initially, I thought, so what? Was I wrong!
Writing is a solitary endeavor, so being around other writers – and readers! – is so important.
I attended sessions with Margaret Atwood, George RR Martin (moderated by Douglas Preston), Don Winslow, and Ashley C. Ford – all bestselling authors. I also attended a delicious lunch and conversation with vegan chef and activist Bryant Terry, who I hadn’t seen in well over a decade.
Bryant was fantastic, and I feel fortunate I could reconnect for a couple of minutes. I have a lot to unpack around the lunch because it was my former self merging with my new self over delicious food. I’m still processing my feelings, so I think I’ll do a whole piece on the meal in a week or two.
I didn’t go to the entire festival because of my covid isolation issues. It was heartening to speak with a tablemate at lunch and discuss our inability to seamlessly have a discussion in these (hopefully!) waning days of covid. I was concerned before the event that too much exposure to other people might be more than my system could handle. I don’t know if you’ve felt that way, but I think many of us are still learning how to be around each other again.
Because of that, I missed talks by Colson Whitehead, John Grisham, Phil Klay, Lawrence Wright, Navajo Chef Freddie Bitsoie, Jon Krakauer, and other established, bestselling, renowned authors who I’m sure had sessions just as inspiring as the ones I attended.
The festival was most likely targeted at readers. Most of the people I chatted with commented that they were there because they liked reading or a specific author. I also heard some people mention they were writing or had written a book, so there was a mixture of readers and writers/readers.
Some takeaways from the event:
- Writers are real people. Margaret Atwood was a hoot – so insightful, funny, and down to earth. Even with her fame, she connected with people as if her readers were no different from her, maybe minus her sharp wit. She is a cultural treasure.
George RR Martin spoke about growing up in the projects in Bayonne, New Jersey, in a family with very little money. He shared his struggles and ups and downs with a full-time career in writing. If George RR Martin had challenges, all of us struggling writers can take heart! He also seemed down-to-earth and genuine while also being a creative genius.
- Writers can be comedians. Not only were Atwood and Martin funny, crime fiction writer Don Winslow just about brought the house down with his wit and humor. Atwood’s flight was delayed, so Winslow switched time slots and was full of warm-hearted jokes about him not being her.
- Writers are insightful and often geniuses. Don Winslow barely made it out of school and eventually taught at Oxford. I can’t repeat his explanation of how his writing is similar to jazz because it was so intellectual, but I got the gist of what he said. When my writing is working, when I feel I’m in my groove, I feel a melody – the words will sing. My writing might be more Beethoven or mid-Beatles and not jazz, but I understood on a deeper level what Winslow was saying.
- Writers are courageous. Ashley C. Ford was my discovery of the event. I now know she’s a bestselling author and wrote Somebody’s Daughter, but I hadn’t heard of her before attending and just randomly chose her talk. Ford was so insightful and honest about her past and life that I found it inspiring. She was not afraid to speak her truth about growing up with a father in prison and a challenging mother – I’m only a chapter into her book and am awed at her perceptive writing. She’s also inspiring because it took ten years for her to complete her memoir. Take heart, all writers – it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to write your book. Just keep writing.
I spoke with Ford after her talk, and she’s so warm and sincere. She was extremely encouraging to the aspiring writer ahead of me in the line of people who wanted to chat with her. When I heard her, I understood why going to these types of events is essential for a writer. I don’t know if it was different because the festival was held in New Mexico and not New York City, but I found everyone I spoke with warm, open, friendly, and encouraging – writers and audience alike. It helped me feel that we’re all part of a supportive community.
I will definitely be attending the festival again next year. And though I did have a wave of panic a couple of times when listening to how brilliant all these writers were, and my imposter syndrome kicked in, I quickly flipped my thinking and realized that if they made it, so can I. There’s room and an audience for all of us dedicated to writing.
So keep writing, writers!
*** Speaking of imposter syndrome which I just mentioned and wrote about a few weeks ago, I watched David Letterman’s Netflix show and his interview with Billie Eilish last night. It was astonishing to hear them talk about how they both suffer from imposter syndrome. I mean, Letterman had his late-night talk show for 33 years!
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