Tonight, I am going to a lecture at Saint Mary’s College in northern Indiana. I only happened to hear about it on my local NPR station a few days ago: the famous Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is coming! I bought tickets and am already thinking about how early to get there to procure the best seat. Now, I must confess that I have not read Adichie’s work. I know she is relevant and important, but sometimes it takes that personal connection of seeing and hearing the author live for me to actually buy the book. Why, my brain might ask, should I buy one pivotal author’s book over another’s? It’s often the reading or lecture that pushes me to purchase.
I attended Central Michigan University for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees (both in fiction writing). The creative writing department there worked very hard to bring in many authors, and I was lucky to meet so many amazing people. Many of the writers publish with smaller, yet prestigious, presses, and maybe you haven’t heard of them, but one writer, Steve Tomasula, made such and impression on me that I applied to his Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Notre Dame. And that’s how I came to live in northern Indiana! Although I graduated with my MFA in 2010, I still live in the area. My husband earned an amazing job at the university right after I graduated, and he’s been working his way up rapidly as a trusted and caring IT employee. I’ve been teaching composition, literature, and creative writing.
The interesting thing about a city with such a famous college like the University of Notre Dame is that there are many other colleges nearby: the aforementioned Saint Mary’s College, which is the sister school to Notre Dame (while only women may graduate from Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame went co-ed in the 1970s). There’s also Holy Cross College, where I teach and am a happy member of the community. A few miles away is a satellite campus of Indiana University and many community colleges. Altogether, there is always a fiction or poetry reading to go to! I am lucky that the University of Notre Dame has such tremendous revenue, because that money can be channeled into the arts.
I’m thinking of waiting in that long line tonight to get Adichie’s autograph. I’ll buy her book before I get there and then stand among the giddy undergraduates of Saint Mary’s and feel a bit foolish. I remember being terrified of asking authors to sign my books. I have since learned that they’re pretty intimidated that anyone even wants it. Buy Adichie isn’t a small-press author; she’s big news. Will she quickly say hello, ask how to spell “Melanie” and the sign her name with such speed that I won’t even be able to read it later? Or will she write something thoughtful but brief, like Junot Diaz, who signed my book “Melanie, for your heart.”
Below are the messages of all the women I’ve seen read. Please do not assume I only attend readings given by women. There are lots of men I’ve met and spoken with and thoroughly enjoyed. Yet, Grab the Lapels is a lady zone, so you’re getting the ladies.
“For Melanie–Fellow fiction writer in South Bend! At ND 2/16/11. Kelcey”
“For Melanie–Pleasure to meet you and best of luck to you and your career goals. Best wishes, Debra Di Blasi”
Debra Di Blasi, who signed her two-novellas-in-one, Drought
“Dear Melanie! With great hopes for your own work! Deb”
Deb Olin Unferth, who signed her novel Vacation
“For Melanie–Sorry about the evils of my book! (only sort of–grateful–xo Lucy”
Lucy Corin, who signed her short story collection, The Entire Predicament. I had told the author that I had taught her novel, Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls, the semester before at Saint Mary’s College and almost got in trouble because there were a number of rapes, murders, and sex scenes in the book, and many of the young ladies felt offended.
“The heart is the toughest part of the body; tenderness is in the hands. Lidia Yuknavitch”
Lidia Yuknavitch, who signed her book Real to Reel
“Melanie, keep writing your great work! Best wishes always, Kim Chinquee”
Kim Chinquee, who signed her book of flash fiction Oh Baby
“To Melanie. Sheila Heti, feb 9 06”
Sheila Heti, who signed her book The Middle Stories. Although she didn’t write much, she also drew a picture of my ear, for some reason.
This book has since been reprinted, but the original was plain yellow, with only the title and author’s name. Sheila Heti and her friends (this according to the author) had a party during which everyone put on stickers of various photos Heti had chosen for the book. Everyone was then encouraged to draw on the stickers with sharpie. The end result is each book buyer gets a one-of-a-kind product!
“For Melanie”–and then on the title page is the title THIS IS NOT YOUR CITY–“but this is now your book! With best wishes and thanks for reading. Caitlin Horrocks”
Caitlin Horrocks, who signed her short story collection, This is Not Your City
“For Melanie–Thanks for reading! Good [luck] with all @ ND [University of Notre Dame] & onward. Looking forward to many more conversations & the emergence of your book! Lily Hoang, AWP Chicago, 12 Feb 2009”
Lily Hoang, who signed her book Changing
“3/20/2011. For Melanie, Hope you enjoy these essays. Best of luck with your writing. Edwidge Danticat”
Edwidge Danticat, who signed her collection of essays, Create Dangerously
“To Melanie, a real Michigan lady–all best–Lolita Hernandez”
Lolita Hernandez, who signed her fiction collection, Autopsy of an Engine
“For Melanie–So happy you got here! All best, Carole”
Carole Maso, who signed her novel The Art Lover
“For dear Melanie with joy and gratitude! Melanie”
Melanie Rae Thon, who signed her fiction collection, Girls in the Grass
“3-24-2010. For Melanie–Thanks for coming out tonight! Warm wishes, Frances”
Frances Hwang, who signed her fiction collection Transparency
“Melanie, may you find a part of Haiti in these words. Roxane Gay”
Roxane Gay, who signed her short story collection, Ayiti. I bought this book at a writing conference because the publishers were selling them for $2. Apparently, the pages didn’t print just how they wanted them to, so they were getting rid of them. Ayiti was Gay’s first book, but I went to see her read on a tour for An Untamed State. I had already bought the e-book in anticipation of the reading, which obviously can’t be signed!
“To Melanie–What a pleasure to meet you at Notre Dame. Three cheers for Michigan! B” and then she drew three hearts and wrote the date, “Feb 16, 2012.”
Bonnie Jo Campbell, who signed her novel Once Upon a River
I went back to see Bonnie at a different reading years later, where she signed my copy of her new fiction collection, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: “To Melanie–What a joy to see you again! Bonnie Jo Campbell 10-3-2015”
“For Melanie, who really gets it–thanks! 2.15.12 Jaimy in S.B. [South Bend, IN]”
Jaimy Gordon, who signed her novel Bogeywoman
“For Melanie, a writer I’ve always admired, and a fan! Valerie 4/3/13”
Valerie Sayers, who signed her novel The Powers
“To Melanie with thanks! Azareen”
Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi, who signed her book, Fra Keeler
Noy Holland, who signed her book What Begins With Bird. I’m not entirely sure why she did not write anything else! Like I said, some authors get very shy when you ask them to sign your book.
Do you get your books autographed? Anything particularly interesting appear in your pages? Thanks for reading about my adventures seeing women read and lecture on creative writing. I’m sure tonight with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will be amazing!