Years ago, someone asked me who my writing mentor was.  When I said I didn’t have one, she exclaimed, “Poor Bubbeleh!”  I had never studied writing, and was just beginning to teach in the Goddard Masters in Creative Writing program.  I had published a novel, was rewriting a memoir, and could not imagine what a mentor could offer me.

I know better now.  After close to a decade teaching at Goddard, I have learned so much and been well-nurtured by my colleagues, not to mention my students.  Twice a year, we meet for residencies, and then go home and write.  And during the residencies, we talk, talk, talk about books, plays, shows, poems and the writing life.

The writing life is not how we schedule our time, or our favorite pen, or terrible agent, or the latest reading we gave.  It’s how we fell in love with books, what we dream about, what we are afraid of, what we can’t live without.  And it’s an essential conversation, one I didn’t even know I was missing until I found myself in this amazing community of writers.

Earlier this year, some of the talks given at Goddard were collected and published in a book called Alchemy of the Word.  It’s provoking and inspiring and not very much about craft.  This week, I got five of my Goddard colleagues to agree to share an excerpt of their essays with you in the spirit of community.  If you are interested in purchasing the book to read the full essays – there are about twenty-five of them – check the link below (Sounds like shameless self-promotion, but this is not my book and I do not profit!) And if you are interested in reading my essay in the book, it just happens to be up in its entirety via the Amazon “look inside” function for free.

I invite you to keep an eye on this space for the Daily Mentor each day this week: a conversation about art as a gift, taking advice, failure, and other essential aspects of the writing life.  To kick it off, the only excerpt that is not written by a woman, this little story retold by Paul Selig, Director of the MFAW program:

"A number of years ago, a woman I knew, the literary manager of one of the most important theaters in the country, was having a spiritual crisis. She felt that the work her theater was producing was meaningless and the only people who could afford to attend it weren’t the people she wanted to reach. And she was afraid of all the choices she had made, because she believed that theater had become an elitist art form and she had become one of its de facto gatekeepers. And Mother Theresa happened to be coming to town and this literary manager had always harbored a secret wish to be of service.

"So she took the train and stood with the crowd outside the U.N. where Mother Theresa was meeting with delegates, and when she came out, my friend shouted to her from behind the barricades, and Mother Theresa stopped, called her out of the crowd, and asked her what she wanted.

"And my friend said, 'I want to come work with you — I want my life to matter!' And Mother Theresa looked at her and asked her what she did for a living here, and my friend, embarrassed, said 'I work in the theater.' And Mother Theresa smiled and said, 'In my country, there is a poverty of the body, and that is the work that I do. In your country, there is a poverty of the spirit. Stay in the theater.'”

(excerpted from “The Alchemy of the Word”, by Paul Selig, previously published in the online literary journal Qarrtisiluni, June 2008.)


ALCHEMY OF THE WORD: Writers Talk About Writing. One collection; six genres; twenty-five authors: A book by writers, for writers, that will teach, provoke, enlighten, and, above all, inspire. December Discount - BUY NOW at 20% off (offer good through Dec. 31, 2011).


Published by California Institute of Arts and Letters, 2011. Co-edited by MFAW faculty Nicola Morris and Aimee Liu. 


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Comment by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto on December 17, 2011 at 10:14am

Thanks Marie.  I hope you get something to carry with you from each installment in the series, which ends today.  I have just joined a critique group, after not having one for over a decade, and the best thing about it is not the giving and receiving or feedback (though that is good of course) but the realization that these writers all have your back and will engage with you in your work. That IS priceless.

Comment by Marie Cruz on December 17, 2011 at 8:10am

Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing that excerpt. What Mother Theresa said to the woman was powerful. It's true that as writers, we sometimes get caught up in stresses of being pre-published and published and forget that writing truly enhances our spirit. And when we share our writing with others, we share that magic. I think it's essential for every writer to find and belong to a community of writers to share experiences with. I have a critique group that meets about once a month and the inspiration I receive from each meeting is priceless. :)

Comment by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto on December 14, 2011 at 7:51pm

Thanks for reading!  The entries are worth taking your time with. Stop by tomorrow morning for a funny and wise excerpt from Susan Kim, and also a long, lovely essay by Susan Straight, which I will be featuring in the afternoon.

Comment by Kakwasi Somadhi on December 14, 2011 at 7:42pm

Kudos to all the Goddard faculty for getting those wonderful talks published. I'll be sure to order a copy. --Goddard MFA Creative Writing, February 2010.

Comment by Caroline Bock on December 14, 2011 at 2:50pm

Looking forward to more entries and will check out book --  

Comment by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto on December 14, 2011 at 9:20am

I learn so much - truly! - from my community of writers: colleagues, students, friends.  It's about loving books and celebrating story, as Beth said so beautifully in her post.  Stacy, if you don't know Beth, meet her on her blog.  I know you walked into Goddard with some of her books on your reading wish list.

Comment by Beth Kephart on December 14, 2011 at 8:54am

We are blessed by Reiko.

Comment by Stacy Clark on December 14, 2011 at 6:57am

Reading this, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have Reiko as one of my first mentors. 

Comment by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto on December 12, 2011 at 7:37pm

@ PA Flaherty Pagan - isn't it?  Come back tomorrow!  And thanks for the note.

Comment by Patricia Flaherty Pagan on December 12, 2011 at 6:03pm

How wonderful to see the wisdom of Goddard mentors swirling out into different communities!


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