Monday, September 20, 2010

The Fruit of the Young

Over the last few years, a short story collection I fell in love with has been following me around. I read it in the spring of 2009 in manuscript form before it had a home and, unable to shake its lyrical prose and memorable characters, kept wondering which lucky publishing house would grab it. A little less then a year later, I discovered on a job interview (for a position that wasn’t ultimately the right fit) that the woman I would be replacing had bought the book and, should I take over the position, I would be its editor. A few months later, upon its publication, I discovered that one of my all time favorite short story writers (and one of the writers my boss edits) had offered the collection a glowing blurb that graced its cover. When the teacher of my writing class announced last week that he would be reading with this writer, I knew I had to attend the event.

So, last night I ventured out to the depths of the east village for this reading at KGB bar. Nestled on the second floor of a cozy brownstone and rich with antiquated details like red velvety looking drapes and cloudy mirrors (and an old antennaed TV at the end of the bar), the heavy, elegant feel of my surroundings made my proximity to this writer feel all the more important an occasion. Though I tried my best to listen to the event’s first reader, my eyes kept wandering the room wondering which fashionably disheveled hipster in the audience would prove to be my literary idol.

When she finally strode—or meandered, really—to the microphone my jaw must have dropped just a little. Dressed in crunchy, collegiate looking clothing with a shy smile and delightfully tangled hair, she looked like someone I might run into at a house party, or meet through a friend of a friend. Her timid, slightly squeaky voice and friendly address of the audience only furthered the feeling that this woman was more my peer—a relatable figure—than anything else. As editorial assistants we all experience that moment of meeting an author who looks remarkably different than he or she does on their back flap photo, but it wasn’t that I was expecting someone more glamorous in this case, just someone older, more distinguished, or more together than me.

Seeing this could-be friend read her beautiful prose was all the more enjoyable on account of her youth and her approachability. Much has been made in print and in the depiction of my generation in pop culture of how loathe we are to grow up and make something of ourselves. (Jess quite eloquently blogged a response to a New York Times article that expounded on the ways that we twenty-somethings are stunted.) On the flip side, the handful of people who do make it big before the age of twenty eight do it on so grand a scale that they seem almost like prodigies who were born to do just that, a fluke or an act of God or nature not to be emulated through effort or hard work. (The New Yorker’s profile of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg marveled at the fact that he had been designing computer programs since childhood and for fun, but on a personal level he came across as a bit of an odd duck. Some of his idiosyncrasies and personality traits made him seem like a lone wolf not ready or suitable to be the poster child for any generation. )

Seeing an every gal in whom it was easy to see not only myself but my brightest and warmest friends accomplish so much and unleash it upon the world with so few airs or barriers between her and her audience was endlessly inspiring. It has long been my suspicion that for every twenty four year old living in their parents’ basement there’s at least one inspired young individual with a pipe dream and a plan to execute it. Encountering people like this young writer makes it easier to continue to put faith in this claim. Here’s to the fruit of the young proving contagious.

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