The Mark Blog

Writers Helping Writers

This is not a new notion. Writers have been offering advice to other writers forever. Books such as Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke document this phenomenon.

When I was young, I had this idea that some writers were so talented they didn’t need any assistance. They wrote well and were published widely. Then I found out that even Hemingway frequented, and was nurtured by, Gertrude Stein’s salon in Paris. I learned most writers have mentors or reliable readers who give editing and revision advice. Finding a community can be hard when a writer is just starting out, working by himself. Writing is such an isolated activity that finding support from others who are further along on the path is partly a matter of luck.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the recent passing of Emerging Voices Fellow Robbie Frandsen. I decided to email Kevin Starr, Robbie's Emerging Voices mentor, and ask him for a quote about Robbie. Mr. Starr kindly replied, saying:

"Whether as a mother, a dedicated church woman, a committed writer, or as a loyal friend, Robbie Frandsen set high standards for herself and met them with quiet and persistent courage. She was an Anglo-American working woman who came up the hard way, worked in a factory, graduated from USC and Harvard, and in mid-life discovered yet another career, writer. I consider her an heroic figure. Her courage and generosity inspired us all. Now, she is with that Light Who guided her through the challenging last decades of her time on this earth."

I’ve never met Mr. Starr. He was Robbie’s mentor, and she held him in highest regard. Mr. Starr is a historian and professor of history at USC and wrote the multi-volume collection Americans and the California Dream. After the Emerging Voices program, Robbie kept in touch with him. He continued to read her new material and offer feedback.

The Emerging Voices program is an amazing opportunity because–among other things–it pairs writers with established mentors. I had a positive experience with my mentor, Deanne Stillman. As I mentioned in another post, I remember and use a lot of the writing tips I learned from her. I’ve heard many similar stories from other fellows. I’m grateful for the experience. It’s just one way that PEN Center USA helps writers.

And Emerging Voices led me to The Mark program, where I continue to learn from our instructor, Antoine Wilson. In addition the program also has a panel of people who follow the progress of the participants' manuscripts. One of these follow-ups (the Mid-Project Review) is coming up in about ten days—on St. Patrick’s Day, no less. Eric, Marissa, and I will be given feedback and asked questions about our revisions. Being a part of all this is makes me feel truly lucky.