Who Is Your Writing Family?

Aimee N blog OK.jpgGuest post by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Reader, I have survived a full two weeks of having a newborn at home. I suppose “survive” is a bit melodramatic for how fast and joy-filled it actually was and in spite of my doubts of all the reassurances from my friends and family that the second child is much easier, Dear Reader, I am happy to report, by gum, it is!

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My Filipino mother is staying with us for a month, cooking us all our favorite dishes–lumpia, the noodle-riffic pancit canton, chicken adobo, and all the garlic fried rice (my comfort food since I was little) a gal can ever want.


On top of that, my beloved colleagues at SUNY-Fredonia have organized a food chart that has a full meal (main course, side dish, and dessert!) delivered to our door twice a week until late August. And though I can finally see my feet again (!) and am sloooowly working my way towards some semblance of a waistline, I am quite literally and figuratively full from the generosity and kindness of my friends and family.


Which got me thinking of the word family when it comes to writing. During grad school at Ohio State, I suppose my first writing family was my peers and professors in my various workshops. When I moved for a year to Madison, WI, my writing family consisted of my enormously talented fellow fellows there, and though it was rare to share drafts of actual work, I considered my pals absolutely crucial to my writing life and the completion of my first book.


pshares719.2.jpgThey were the ones I could ring up and go for an impromptu ice-skating session on the lake when I couldn’t get past a certain stanza. The ones that met me at the coffee shop around the corner to hang out and read the latest poetry and fiction books and journals and scribble in our journals into the wee morning hours.

When I started teaching in a lovely but small town, finding a writing family was more crucial than ever. The internet (this was before Facebook and Twitter) served as a powerful and speedy way to connect with other writers and it was through email that I “met” or first heard of other Filipino-American or Indian-American writers my age. Eileen Tabios was instrumental in making “introductions” to the folks I now consider my barkada: poets Patrick Rosal, Sarah Gambito, Joseph Legaspi, Oliver de la Paz, and many more that I now consider to be part of my “writing family.” I know I can email/send them my poems and get smart, honest and open feedback. They will also tell me straight up if I am overreacting to some sort of drama in the literary world or am in desperate need of a title change to a poem without fear of hurting my feelings. But more than anything–when one of us has some small (or large!) success in our writing lives, we all rally to be the first in line for congratulations and (virtual) high-fives.


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Legaspi and Gambito wanted to extend this feeling of camaraderie and community in 2004, brainstormed the beginnings of Kundiman, an organization for emerging Asian-American poets. I’ve been honored to be on the summer faculty twice and have found that by being immersed in such a community, even just for less than a week in the summer, my own writing and teaching has grown and developed in ways I never thought possible. From the Kundiman website:


Kundiman sees poetry not only as vehicle for cultural expression but also as an instrument for political dialogue and self-empowerment. It recognizes the need to create an Asian American poetic community, and, at the same time, to engender a commitment among poets to give back to their own communities. Kundiman is the classic form of Filipino love song…the singer who expresses undying love for his beloved is actually singing for love of country. As an organization dedicated to providing a nurturing space for Asian American poets, we find in this name inspiration to create and support poetic expression.
“Here was a group of dynamic people who shared both my struggles–being a writer of color in America–and my passions: a deep devotion to the art of poetry. I found there what I failed to find in my MFA program, or in any other poetry workshop I’ve taken: a deep respect and honor among poets; a desire to talk about race, identity, and history, in conjunction with one’s composition process; and a willingness to take risks with my own work.”
–Brynn Saito, former Kundiman Fellow

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So, Dear Readers, I ask you, Where do you find your writing family? Do you have a set of pals and confidants that you can freely exchange writing with? Do you interact with your writing family in person or have you found the internet to be vital in making connections? How much (or how little) do you use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to build your own little (or large) writing community? Or are you a lone wolf, happy to be independent and trotting solo in your literary life? Do tell in the comments section below!


This is Aimee’s third post for Get Behind the Plough.

Images: 1, 2, and 3


About Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently, LUCKY FISH (Tupelo Press). A recipient of a fellowship from the NEA and the Pushcart Prize, she is associate professor of English at SUNY-Fredonia.
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2 Responses to Who Is Your Writing Family?

  1. M says:

    A “writing family” is one of the few things that has kept me writing at low points in my life. When I was straight out of high school and entering undergrad I was blessed to have many artistic friends that would correspond through good old fashioned snail mail. We would use this medium as a way to practice our various takes on poetry and comment on each other’s progress. As the inevitable separation from high school friends and integration into a college circle of friends took place, I found fellow creative minds to discuss literature and art with. When I moved half way across to the U.S. I lost a receptive writing community for a time. It was not until I fully immersed myself into the Poetry Slam scenes did I begin making new connections. I also made a MySpace site that became a sort of defacto workshop for all of our poems. It was this group and their support that helped me regain my confidence enough to apply for an MFA in Creative Writing. Now I have a great community of fellow writers to discuss my work with in person. I am a bit concerned about maintaining a community of other writers to communicate with after I graduate from here. I am sure that a community will present itself though–given enough time.

  2. A. Leahy says:

    What a lovely piece about “family” and writing, taking into consideration the various ways we find guidance, encouragement, and sometimes the necessary what-were-you-thinking? Like you, some of my writing family is from school, first from Knox College (a writing friend from 25 years ago there is in my current writing group).
    For me, this brings up issues of lineage, too. “Family” implies the intimacy you describe, but I’m also thinking about what it may mean that my first poetry workshop teacher was Robin Behn, then Mary Swander, both of whom were students of Stanley Plumly, who became my thesis director. Though there were several others who mattered greatly to my development, perhaps I’ve been inbred, in the poetry biz sense. But the connectedness of our poetry writing culture is wonderfully sustaining.
    In fact, I linked to this piece via a Facebook “friend,” perhaps not family, but another invigorating group there, a way to reconnect with poets from grad school, and maybe a cultural shift in the way we define relationships.