After poring through a new novel or collection of poems each week, we came together on Mondays to talk about the vitality of formal innovation, the difficulty of truth-telling, the utmost necessity of storytelling. Looming always was the anticipation of meeting the authors of the works in class, at their readings, during dinner, and at their brunch conversations; we confronted the necessary discomfort of talking about the text as an object for mining sociological, historical, and allegorical meaning while keeping in mind the author, alive and opinionated. We would not resolve this difficulty during the semester, but my mode of reading text would be opened up to include not only myself and the page inches away from me, but a small community of thoughtful peers, the eminent though down-to-earth Fellow, and the characters and words that came inevitably to life during our three-hour discussions.
I had the honor of introducing Waldman for her February reading in the very room in which we had talked at length about her work. Poetry—language—was our grounding, was the grounding of that room and the Fellows seminar, now in its fifteenth year. It was on this hallowed, worn ground that Waldman channeled her ritual spirits, the jaguar and the Buddha and the people; where Allison performed for a captive audience a new piece about old family-deep pain; where Hagedorn talked about new adaptations and mediums for her work and read from her newest novel about “what it means when your writing is consumed and you end up consuming yourself.”
Our Fellows class spoke “provisionally final words,” as Julia termed them, to each other the day after Hagedorn’s morning program. We ate from the pot of chili Lily made for us and shared our thanks for the incredible opportunities the seminar allowed us to partake in. The most special part of my semester arrived to a difficult and incommensurably corny end; we rode out and onwards. That three incredible women could be the subjects of our study, with two women instructors, among a long list of Fellows that included John Ashbery, Joan Didion, and Laurie Anderson, was something of a testament to the power and inclusivity of the Writers House Fellows Program and its ability to bring up close and personal the most important things in an academic and university setting, and in living language: love, accessibility, and community.