Dear PSB Writer-in-Residence 2020

Dear PSB Writer-in-Residence 2020,

You might be thinking they made a mistake. That through some administrative error, you got an email from the PSB staff in the way that sometimes colleges send out a slew of acceptances to the reject pile. Well, guess what: they didn’t. You, dear writer, are now a writer-in-residence. Holy shit(ake mushrooms)! Can you believe it? I couldn’t. I was so, so shocked and happy that I actually teared up some, around this time last year. That might sound like overkill, but I’ve applied for other residencies and been rejected from each and every one of them (until this one—hooray!). It was surreal. I was so sure I hadn’t gotten it, that, honestly, I’d kind of forgotten about it. I initially found out when a friend of mine, who had also applied, forwarded the announcement to my work inbox with the subject line Congratulations!!!!!!

So hearty congratulations to you, WiR. What a great gift it is to have a smart, quirky, and knowledgeable bookstore staff—I mean, these people REALLY KNOW BOOKS—choose your book. I just want to say that, because I don’t want to hear any imposter syndrome stuff. That’ll get in the way of doing what you’ve been asked to do, which is, mostly, to write. So remind yourself of that, every time you’re feeling down.

I really loved writing at the store on Saturday mornings. There’s something beautiful about the sound of fellow bibliophiles perusing the shelves while you’re tucked back there in that cozy office, guzzling your caffeine of choice, typing away while listening to Wilco or Mitski or some other band that takes you to writerland. I’m going to miss quiet weekday evenings too. I’ll miss the muffled sound of an author event coming through the walls, occasional laughter from the audience, the clock marking the seconds behind me. The staff coming in and out, the way the piles of books back there keep changing. The chairs that are so much more comfortable than my usual kitchen chair. The way Dina (she’s one of the owners) would bustle around saying, “You keep working, I’m just gonna grab my stuff, keep writing keep writing keep writing, I’m not even here,” like I was doing something Very Important, which, come to think of it, I was! How wonderful and rare to be in a space where the work of writing was valued like that. To tell you the truth, for the first few days for my residency, I sat in the wrong spot—in the little break area by the window with the occasional rumbling of the ice machine and the towers of cardboard boxes. I was so eager to have my WiR orientation after the new year, that by the time the residency started I’d forgotten both the location of the actual office and the code to enter it. I know, it’s embarrassing. Don’t worry. Josh will remind you.

You’ll get to introduce authors as part of your responsibilities. I’d never written an author introduction before this year, and it was more work than it seems—rewarding work, though. It’s kind of an awesome feeling to be thanked—sincerely—by a writer you’ve long admired. This article over at The Millions was really helpful for me. Maybe I was being too perfectionist about it, but since you’re only doing it three times, you might as well give it what you can. Sarah (one of the staff, you’ll meet her!) told me my Steve Almond intro was excellent (thank you!), so I think I did all right.

You’re going to enjoy writing staff picks, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes the challenge of somehow rendering a 83,124-word book into a 78-word morsel. Or, if you’re the kind of person who tends to be a book “evangelist,” pressing your latest favorite into the hands of unaware loved ones (and strangers). If you like talking about books in a way that’s fun and inviting and not necessarily meant to impress, but meant to invite or entice, you’ll really dig this part of the res. I know I did. Speaking of enjoyment, that 40% discount? Hoooo, boy. I started off back in February thinking I ought to stop by the cafe every single time I entered the store, because... I don’t know, it’s right there. I ate a lot of croissants. Also, the Aztec hot chocolate is really good! As for book-buying, I don’t have to tell you how wonderful it is to return home from the store with a fresh haul, ready for binge-reading all Saturday afternoon. I had to exercise self-restraint in this regard, though I definitely carried a stack out last night, to use the discount before it ended. 

As a writer, what helps me most is accountability. Someone to hold my feet to the fire.  But also, someone who really cares about what I’m doing, who believes in my work. This residency gave me both (and so many other perks). For that, I will be forever grateful. As for you, dear 2020 Writer-in-Residence, congratulations again, and good luck. I’ll be looking for your book on the shelves.

 

Catherine