Perhaps one day if time and breath allow, I will write about my experience at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, which was one of the most solid and lasting thrills of my unexpected writing life…even as it was made clear to me that I was never gonna be one of the cool kids. I felt like I’d been allowed into my dream theme park. I made friends and passing acquaintances there that endure and enrich me to this day. The experience remains a lifetime highlight. But I also spent some time playing “country dumb,” the term I invoke for those times I pretend not to notice I’m being condescended to over things like my willingness to hustle books from a van.
But here’s a pure memory: Randall Kenan, stepping through a door into the sun, me plucking up the courage to thank him for the poetry reading he had given, him responding kindly, humbly, sweetly. Our conversation was brief and I never saw him again, but I have carried his graciousness with me to this very moment, and it was the first image that struck me when I heard of his death. How kind he was to me.
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