It was wonderful to participate in the 8th annual Bay Area Book Festival, which was back in person this year, and to see thousands of people show up so enthusiastically for the arts, and in particular books and writing. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss home, exile, belonging, and living and writing from the fractured spaces during my second panel on ‘Short Stories: In Search of Belonging.’
A craft question from a member of the audience asked how to depict not belonging in story: As with everything else in fiction, it’s down to the personal, sensory, precise, and specific details. Ultimately, I think Colin Barrett and I agreed that home is a state of being. Similarly, I think we reached consensus that in determining what a story has to be to be of value, the writer satisfies that answer for themselves with each piece of writing, and the reader in turn satisfies that answer for themselves. It also seems I will never be allowed forget that I told the Westmeath Independent’s editor Tadhg Carey that I was a “queen of uncomfortable stories.” Thanks again to our moderator Jane Ciabattari for her unfailing excellence.
My deep thanks also to Molly Giles, Sarah Moss and Leslie Kirk Campbell for the brilliance they brought to the panel I moderated on ‘Keep Calm and Go Quietly Mad’. The consensus here was resoundingly that the cultural treatment of ‘madness’ is often biased and careless, and has to be placed within its social and political context (who among us hasn’t unraveled to various degrees, and the extreme pressures keep climbing). Unraveling, breaking down to build back up, can also be necessary and useful. We were unanimous that keeping calm is often the worst response. Instead resist, and agitate. We were less uniform in our thoughts on whether magic, higher powers, or divine inspiration are possible.
I remain wholly impressed by the feat that is organizing and fulfilling a festival of this size and caliber. To Cherilyn Parsons, Norah Piehl, and their team, and to the enormous village of volunteers, congratulations and bravo. Now take a well-earned rest.