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On Teachers, Even Those We’ve Never Met

I’ve had a lot of great writing teachers in my life. Two of them were actual teachers, in schools with books and assignments and criticism to hand over. One was in high school and the other was in college. When I sold my memoir this year I emailed both of them to say thank you, and I cried as I wrote those letters, overcome with gratitude for their generosity and influence along my writing path, their never-wavering belief that I would one day be writing them those very letters.

The rest of my writing teachers have been made up of people I’ve never met. They are other writers, authors of books I’ve read over and over again, storytellers, crafters of sentences so exquisite that you never forget page you first saw them on. These teachers line the bookshelves in my living room and their books are classrooms I return more times than I can count.

Jamaica Kincaid, Annie Proulx, Lydia Davis, Nick Flynn, Arundhati Roy, Herman Hesse, Anne Carson, Adrienne Rich, Haruki Murakami, Anne Sexton, Joan Didion, Eudora Welty, Annie Erneaux, Dave Eggers, Octavio Paz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Madeline L’Engle, Milan Kundera, Darin Strauss, John Updike, Banana Yoshimoto, Mary Karr, Ruth Reichl…the list goes on and on.

One of those teachers, Dani Shapiro, emailed me last week to say that she’d read my book. Her praise was generous and proud and after I read her words I closed my eyes and took a breath, letting the early morning office become still around me so that I might better be present to the moment. Dani Shapiro is a writer I’ve been reading for a long time. From her first book, Slow Motion, a memoir about loss and navigating your 20s, to her multiple engrossing novels and her most recent spiritual memoir Devotion, her words have shaped my own. She is a brave writer and a brave person. She is the one walking ahead on an overgrown path, cutting down brambles and forging a way, so that you may follow a bit more easily.

I don’t know how to thank her for such a thing.

In some ways I wonder if I’ve already thanked her the only way I can — by trying to be the best writer I can be, by learning from her, and by working to clear the path that much more for all who are also traveling this way.

Thank you, Dani.

Read what she had to say over on my book page.



  1. I love what is already happening with this book, Claire. Can hardly wait to see where it is a year from now!

    Comment by Carroll on September 28, 2011 at 11:17 am

  2. Thanks Carroll! More big news to come in the next few days, if you can believe it!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on September 28, 2011 at 9:10 pm

  3. What an exciting time for you!!

    Comment by Chris on October 3, 2011 at 6:14 am

  4. Thanks, Chris! It’s definitely surreal.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on October 3, 2011 at 6:47 am

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