There was a huge part of me, when I graduated from Tulane University with a Bachelor's in English and a concentration in Creative Writing, that wanted to go on to get my MFA. My writing professor and mentor, Paula Morris, had put my eye on the University of Iowa, and I placed it atop a pedestal. The University of Iowa became my dream school, and I planned to go there—right after I finished my year or two of teaching math in New York City.
The 2008 Recession toppled that house of cards. What I built after that was made of grittier stuff.
Today I'm a counselor and a writer, and I still got to go to the University of Iowa for its annual Iowa Summer Writing Festival. To be taught by the exceptionally likable, intelligent, thoughtful, and talented Richard Thomas. Being his student is a little like being in front of the Crawler in Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation—although enthralling instead of repulsive, and just about as unsettling.
Each afternoon, Richard had lessons prepared for us that were one-fifth lecture, one-fifth seminar, two-fifths workshop, and one-fifth psychoemotional processing. Richard didn't just teach us about dark fiction. He taught us about why it allures us with its shadowy fingers. He made us examine our own fears, engage with them, and create magic with them in yoke. And his infectious amiability made even the most socially anxious among us into writers eager to share our work.
After this week, I feel like I know myself a little more as an artist. Richard ended the week with a sort of impromptu baptism, where we each learned a great deal about genre and where we fit into the larger literary world. I know that other people are also doing what I'm doing. I know who they are, I know that some are better than me, and I know that I can learn from them. I've got a community, we read each other's work, and we make each other better as we each improve.
This is what I never quite fully understood about the fact that writers must be readers. The relationship between readers and writers is not bidirectional. Writers must be readers first.
My book list is growing. Immensely. I don't think I've ever read several books simultaneously (except for school), but it's actually not terribly hard to keep the stories separated when they're all amazing. As of this moment, I'm reading The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic, Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, and The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, each coming highly recommended and related to my genre. I have so many books to read after this, that I think I'll be busy for a while. I'm also subscribing to some literature magazines to keep up-to-date on what my genre's up to.