Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Tess Gallagher read at Elliott Bay Books here in Seattle. Many readings, even in an arts-friendly city, tend to be ill-attended. Tess, however, always manages to fill the house. It’s not hard to see why. Tess is one classy lady; not only does she take her own work seriously but not self-seriously, she also has a genuine interest in others’ work as well. She’s a generous collaborator on a great many of her projects, and never is without the name of a painter or two she’s excited about.
And while I never expect her to recall my name, she always does, and introduces me to others as a fellow poet. I’m humbled by her; in the writing world, so often we feel compelled to build our own reputations as serious writers that we, knowingly or not, bulldoze over the feelings of others trying doing the same. Tess stands as a reminder to me that a fruitful and successful career doesn’t require ceaseless self-marketing.
When Tess spoke at my MFA commencement this past August, she gave us a number of reflections on the writing life. One particular thought among them remains with me: “At the end and beginning of every day is that rather terrifying question …: what will you care about sufficiently to devote your time and heart to as a writer?”
Terrifying indeed. It’s a question I feel ill-equipped answer at this stage of my writing career, but I hope the answer will ultimately involve the kind of humanity and care Tess brings to her own writing.
Read the full text of her commencement address here.