JK: Wake Up
As part of my participation this past month in the Nature of Words, a writing feast set on Oregon’s High Desert, I agreed to judge the Rising Stars fiction entries. The pieces came from kids 15 to 18 and a second group from 19 to 25.
The first piece I picked up was written by a 15 year old high school sophomore. It was less than 1000 words, though they could submit entries up to 2500. It was one of the most exquisitely written pieces I have ever encountered. It was a disturbing subject, about a young man’s watching a girl commit suicide by throwing herself out of a window. (At least four of the entries by teens in that 15-18 age group used death or suicide as a subject, which says to me how they struggle with the ideas of mortality and the meaning of life. My admiration for those who write for young adults always goes up as you address these difficult subjects).
Anyway, Jordan Parson’s piece had a beautiful structure that when he read his winning work out loud yesterday, took the listeners in, then kept us there, holding our collective breaths, letting phrases like “She had torn the fabric of consistency” resonate on our ears and minds. This young writer had a mature grasp of detail. His observation of living, his ability to hold us spellbound, then take us to the place where as the narrator in the story he expresses gratitude that this young woman who died woke him up, suggests someone deeply committed to the work of listening, observing, and risking to express that. He is doing the hard work of a writer.
I asked him later if he had written his piece out of the experience of a suicide of someone he cared about. He said no, that his desk looked out onto this scene of people drinking their wine, talking of meaningless things, not noticing the cry of a child down the street, not paying attention to life, and he’d asked himself what it would take for them to “wake up. To notice.” He said, “I thought I would have to throw myself out of the window to get them to notice,” and that thought had inspired this fine, fine work.
I worried that those who heard him read would be uncomfortable by the intensity of the subject. But I hoped they would also see the talent and the risk inside his work. They did. The applause seemed to go on for minutes. He’d done what each of us as authors should be doing: help others see the world and become awake to it.
Now I need to do that in my work in progress, inspired by a 15 year old boy. I hope your work in progress goes deep, takes risks and helps us as readers wake up.
Jane Kirkpatrick, http://www.jkbooks.com, author of A Clearing in the Wild.