A week ago, I'd have already been on the road, headed to my college hometown of Newberry, South Carolina. My friend had asked if I could be there by 9:30 so that she could interview me for her radio show. I knew that I'd be coming from Mepkin Abbey, and that I'd be up early. I said that barring some sort of traffic delay, I'd be there.
I got to Newberry early and drove around. In some ways, the town hasn't changed. But in many ways, it's vastly different.
I started at Newberry College in 1983, when the town had been devastated by much of its manufacturing pulling out of town--there had been 3 mills, I think, and 2 of them had just been closed. There was a chicken processing plant or two, but certainly not enough jobs for everyone who had just been laid off. The Opera House downtown had been shuttered for years, and the rest of the downtown area looked fairly bleak.
Now there's a hotel downtown to support the thriving Opera House. There are several fine restaurants--during my college years, there was some fast food, Plato's (a sort of diner out on the Bypass), and Dopey's, a burger shack on the edge of campus that may not have been entirely legal.
I was at the radio station with plenty of time to spare, and so I got to set up my laptop, so as to do some reading from my forthcoming book. I made my selections and got ready.
I've been interviewed for this radio show before, but it was by phone. This time, I was in the studio, which hadn't changed much since my own college years, when my then-boyfriend, now-spouse worked at the station.
The interview went wonderfully well. I didn't get tongue-tied or say "um"--I knew the answers to all the questions. Of course, it's not like I'm running for office. The interview was much more like a warm discussion about college and literature and writing and poetry.
Afterwards, we went out for brunch and then spent some time rocking on the porch, talking about life, watching the world go by. It was delightful.
My friend first knew me at Newberry during my Senior year, when she took a class with my beloved English professor, Dr. Swanson. My friend also worked for the PR department of the college, and she hired me to be a staff writer. I wrote articles about students, and she sent them to hometown newspapers, who were happy for the free copy. I got both publication and payment for writing. It was intoxicating. I have yet to recover.
We were both fiction writers, and we went out to lunch, in the nearby town of Prosperity, at The Back Porch, which was a restaurant run by a woman who took special care of some of the disadvantaged in the community. We showed each other our stories and encouraged each other.
Last week on the porch, I said, "I did think that one of us would be famous by now."
When I was young, I thought of all the stories through history that hadn't been told because women weren't permitted to write them. Now that I'm older, I realize that literacy isn't the only piece, and that one can have time, money, and a room of one's own and still face significant hurdles.
At the end of last week, I read Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words, which reminds me that success doesn't even bring freedom from hurdles. Lahiri talks about finding the freedom to write that she lost, to some extent, when her first book received such acclaim. She did it by learning Italian and choosing to write exclusively in Italian.
I don't have any solutions. Some of us will write in Italian, and some of us will devote ourselves to just one novel in our lifetime. Some, like me, will keep exploring a variety of possibilities, hopeful that what needs to survive will survive.
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