Monday, April 30, 2007

Newburyport Literary Festival

Over the weekend I attended several events as part of the Newburyport Literary Festival. It is a reminder to me how much commonality there is across the arts and how inspirational it can be to hear writers talking about their work. The honoree of the Festival was Peter Guralnick who is probably best known for his two-volume biography of Elvis Presley. The Festival opened with a conversation between Peter and Bill Flanagan who was filling in for a delayed Elvis Mitchell.

My two favorite sessions on Saturday were with Wil Haygood who read from In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr. and Junot Diaz, author of a short story collection, Drown and a forthcoming novel. I was familiar with Wil Haygood from his days at the Boston Globe. He spoke with great empathy about Sammy Davis Jr. and his life but I was most moved by Wil Haygood himself. I felt that he is at a place within himself of such depth and truth that sharing the time with him was a privilege. He was also funny.

Junot Diaz was new to me and a great discovery. His readings were brief and compelling and most of the time was spent in conversation with the audience. He was also funny. I particularly liked what he said about why you should not write for approval. While I am not writing as eloquently as he spoke, here's the gist. Approval is nice but if that is your goal, it gets in the way. One of the main reasons is because if approval is your goal, it makes you worry about making mistakes. Mistakes are a dysfunction in pursuing approval. If you are embarked on a creative journey of discovery, then mistakes are just a part of the process and something to make and learn from which is as it should be.

It reminds me of a quote from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki that has always been important to me.
"Of course some encouragement is necessary, but that encouragement is just encouragement. It is not the true purpose of practice. It is just medicine. When we become discouraged we want some medicine. When we are in good spirits we do not need any medicine. You should not mistake medicine for food. Sometimes medicine is necessary, but it should not become our food."

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