Some Thoughts on Community
One word that gets bandied about a lot in writing circles is community. Finding your community. Engaging with your community. Relying on your community for advice and support. It all sounds pretty good. But what does the word really mean? One definition: “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” And another: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” Applied to us, here: We’re all writers. We all belong to the writing community. Which is great, and that feeling is palpable. It’s empowering to know there are so many other people who feel as passionately about writing as we do. But I think it’s a little more complicated. To say we’re all members of the writing community is a bit like saying everyone who lives in this country is a member of the community known as America, which is technically true—and that grand notion will probably crop up in the flood of speeches and “I approve this message” commercials poised to inundate us as we head into an election year. But anyone who is paying even the slightest bit of attention to current events knows that applying such broad strokes to something as large and heterogeneous as the United States doesn’t get us very far.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “community” and all it implies during the past few months as I, with my amazing editorial staff, put together this (huge!) issue of the magazine featuring our ninth annual special section on MFA programs: The desire for community, after all, is a big reason a lot of writers apply to graduate school. They want to study the art of writing, yes; they want to learn from the best writers, of course; but they also want to find their tribe. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. We titled this issue’s special section “The Many Faces of Today’s MFA” to acknowledge that not all writing programs are the same; classroom culture is manifold; the needs of writers are varied; and finally, not all writers are the same—and to approach the community as if its members are all alike is to ignore the tremendous diversity that fuels our art form.
We are individuals; together, we are a community. And as such we have a responsibility—an opportunity—to open our minds and listen, read, and respond to the perspectives, challenges, and lessons of others. And then, in the end, do what we must: write.