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I’ve lived in New York City for the past fifteen years. It’s hard for me to imagine that in just a few more, I will have lived in this place longer than anywhere else in my life. But every time I think about it, I arrive at the same question: At what point does the place where one spends one’s childhood or adolescence or young adulthood—or in my case, all three, in Wisconsin—loosen its grip on what feels like the majority share of one’s identity? I’m beginning to think the answer is never. Of course, not everyone feels this way, and that’s one of the reasons why the intertwining subjects of place and identity are so fascinating.
In 2010 we launched Why We Write in an effort to record the stories of writers whose perspectives, though often intensely personal, touch on the universal reasons why so many artists choose to engage with the world, and themselves, through writing rather than other, perhaps more lucrative or high-profile, pursuits. “Empowerment is encapsulated in the written word,” Tracy Strauss offers in the twentieth installment of the column, on page 35. I’ve long wanted to launch a complementary series of articles that would explore the same kinds of deeply personal yet universal stories about the places writers call—or used to call—home. What does it mean to be a writer in a certain town, or city, or region? How does it affect one’s perspective, in daily life and on the page? I’m extremely excited to introduce the new Where We Write column with an essay by poet francine j. harris, who explores her creative connection to her hometown, Detroit (39). “Being from Detroit is both a badge of honor and a psychological challenge,” she writes.
Place factors prominently in so many of the articles in this issue: from the rural Southern town where Jesmyn Ward lives and writes about tragedy in her new memoir, Men We Reaped (42); to the cabin in northwestern Montana where Rick Bass lives and writes among the grizzlies, mountain lions, and coyotes of the Yaak Valley (50); to the many different cities where prospective students hope to live and write while attending full-residency graduate programs in creative writing (71).
Wherever you are, I hope you’ll take this magazine as a symbol of your belonging to a community of writers that has no property line, no zip code. Wherever we’ve been, wherever we’re going, we are connected through writing.