When I hear of the passing of writers like Maya Angelou or Russell Edson or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Maxine Kumin, all lost this year, I’m wounded because I have a hard time believing this rotten planet can keep on turning without them. Their art, their message, their voices, their literary power seemed gravitational, large enough to hold us down, and now that they are gone, we may all come unhinged.
Writers like this altered me. They taught me about passion and risk and perseverance. They taught me about craft and skill. They taught me about the power of words. How sometimes, simple words, all gathered together and placed just right on the page, can have the power to make me feel hollowed out, like there is a newness to me, something open and waiting, and how sometimes, they can make the Earth shift a little, and suddenly, I am seeing everything again, for the first time. If learning was something that happened outside the body, something we could see, that’s what it would look like, like objects falling into place, like the very moment a flock of birds shifts from a burst of flurry, to a reason, a shape, a formation.
I think the success of an artist is in their courage to tap into the things we bury, and then turn them inside out and expose all that raw vulnerability to the light so we can get a closer look. This is how they touch us, and in a sense, how they heal us. It takes courage to do that, to bare something, to tell the truth. It takes risk, and when it works, it can clear through all the dust and debris and make the planets align deep in the chest of a girl who has lost her hold. It can set something spinning in place that will never stop.
Writers like this can never die.