Feedback from readers
I want to tell you how moved I was by Elizabeth Wetmore’s observations in “5 Over 50” (November/December 2020) that she felt a terrible grief when she thought that her characters’ stories might not get told and that their book was the one she wanted to write. I have been working on a quartet of novels for the past six years; it’s been hard, and lately some people have suggested that I toss the work aside and go on to a new topic since, after all, many novelists discard their first attempt. When I hear that unsolicited advice I silently think that I don’t want to write novels—I want to tell this particular story. Even worse is when I get so discouraged that I myself think I should give up. (I see the characters walking in a ragged line over a hill, looking back sadly, wondering why I would cast them out.) Thanks to Wetmore for making me feel that I am not a stubborn idiot to persevere in this difficult but supremely important struggle.
Thank you so much for your annual “5 Over 50.” I am looking forward to the publication of my debut novel in 2021, at which time I will be sixty-two. The first chapter rose out of a short story I wrote in a workshop when I was twenty-seven years old. Having gone back to school in my fifties, I was known to joke among my younger classmates each year when the National Book Foundation announced their 5 Under 35 list that I was hoping to win Top Ten Not Dead Yet. Ageism is real in the writing world, and when a mature writer publishes for the first time, the work and author are often recognized with a wink—as if what we do is cute and a kind of anomaly. I am a writer and have been all my life. Your latest issue reminds me I am in good company.
The November/December 2020 issue could not have arrived at a better time. For twelve years I’ve been at work on a novel that takes place in 1968 in Nebraska, where George Wallace stirred up riots in Omaha and where the Central High School boys’ basketball team sailed to the state championship with the first all-Black starting lineup in the country. As a white woman writing about both white and Black families during that time, I especially appreciate the interviews with Rumaan Alam (“Leave the Expectations Behind” by Joshunda Sanders) and Danielle Evans (“The Confounding Insistence on Innocence” by Naomi Jackson) and the conversation with the panel of Black editors (“The Abundance, Joy, Beauty, Persistence, Power, and Potential of Independent Publishing: A Conversation With Six Black Editors” by Camille T. Dungy). I am sixty-three, and “5 Over 50” is also exactly what I needed as I begin yet another revision of my novel manuscript. I’ve clipped out those articles and circled Roxane Gay’s quote urging tenacity despite advancing age: “You are not a late bloomer. You are already blooming.” I’ll take these words with me through the winter as I work on and on, persisting and believing in the story I must tell.
El Cerrito, California
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1. “Internal Tapestries: A Q&A With Louise Glück” (September/October 2014) by William Giraldi
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3. “5 Over 50” (November/December 2020)