The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: Terrance Flynn on Coming Out of the Closet

Terrance Flynn, 2013 Emerging Voices Fellow, shares his experience of secretly writing in his father’s closet as a child. In this light-hearted essay, Terrance reveals how being awarded the Emerging Voices Fellowship marked his literary ‘coming out.'
“I wrote in my dad’s closet as a kid—more a matter of the carpeting and quiet than an unconscious psychodynamic crisis. His Arrow shirts hung above me in dry cleaning bags that tickled my shoulder and clung to the back of my neck. Better parts of whole days spent writing amidst fumes of dry cleaning fluid and Speed Stick by Mennen, which I applied in order to smell like my dad and older brothers, a scent called regular.
Many years later, PEN Center USA outed me as a writer by proclaiming me a 2013 Emerging Voices Fellow. At least it felt like an outing, a proclamation, spoken in the steadfast voice of a town crier—none of the shillyshallying of the whisper inside my head. Proclamations help. They tell you what the hell to do. Also outings: they hold you accountable. 
The Emerging Voices Fellowship is a series of ongoing conversations on writing lead by authors, poets, audiences, the PEN community, agents, publishers, and fellow fellows—all who expect you to cough up further proof of being a writer of note. For me the fellowship boiled down to a series of threats of being exposed as a fraud. This served me well.  A touchdown still counts if the running back is scrambling to escape being pulverized. Panic or fancy footwork, both earn the points.
The less romantic aspects of the fellowship get less attention: talk of deadlines, loglines, submission guidelines. The necessity (for published authors even) to hold day jobs. Whether to MFA or not. Which residences, conferences and funding sources to ignore or pursue. How to read faster in your own head and more slowly to an audience.
Since last July, I’ve internalized the scramble and run headlong into other opportunities: some publications, more readings and fellowships, and recently an agent who expects me to cough up a full draft of my book to be proposed in the fall. It’s dangerous to speak of things that don’t yet exist, like a completed first book, but we are just talking here. A conversation about writing, no longer in a closet, though I still run scared from one sentence to the next in search of meaning and in fear of annihilation. As for now, I can claim applying for this unique fellowship. That was all me: I applied.”
Terrance Flynn recently signed with Lorin Rees of Rees Literary Agency to represent his memoir, Dying to Meet You. He was awarded a 2014 Promise Award by the Sustainable Arts Foundation, the Stanford Calderwood fellowship from the MacDowell Colony, and a 2013 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices fellowship. Terrance is a finalist for the Wabash Prize for Nonfiction judged by Cheryl Strayed. He's been published in Slice Magazine, and two essays are forthcoming in Sycamore Review and Creative Nonfiction.  

The deadline to apply for the 2015 Emerging Fellowship is August 11. Click here for more info. And don’t miss the Emerging Voices Meet and Greet on July 20 at Skylight Books!