I always laugh when I meet young writers who tell me that they don’t read much because they don’t want to corrupt their own style. It makes me smile because they obviously don’t know a thing about writing. Dancers love dance. Actors love theatre and film, artists love art, musicians love music and one would have to assume that celebrities love tabloids and wine makers love wine.
You read because you want to know the pool you swim around in. Are you into craft? Setting? Plot? Character? Read enough so you know who you are as a writer, so you know your own strengths and weaknesses. Read till you understand what it means to weave in myth, so that a story like Calvino’s “The Distance to the Moon,” jumps out at you, yes! It’s about Cuba and the U.S. and kids leaving home and the story of God becoming the story of man and the Bible becoming obsolete and there is no more manna from heaven. It’s about all that and you know it and understand it because you’ve read so much that your brain swims in metaphors, you speak that language too, the heightened language that means we’re telling one of the tall tales of the universe.
Karen said to me last residency, “I don’t know if I believe everything you say,” and I thought, “No, you should not, I am a story teller and in the telling, the story always gets bigger.” The fishes get bigger, the bridges from which we leap are taller, the rivers deeper and the dangers always just a step behind. Writing is the language of lunatics who thought someone might like to read this. Be one of those readers. Enter myth in your own head space.
As I write this, I’m eating pomegranate seeds. They’re in season and they’re everywhere, and I love them. I can’t help thinking of Persephone being tricked by the god of the underworld to taste them and according to Greek myth, that’s why we have winter. Demeter waits for Persephone to emerge so there can be summer. Reading is being in the underworld. You get to eat pomegranate seeds down there and it’s sometimes dark, but that is where spring and ideas come from. That’s where all the robust flowering of the imagination comes from. Reading and living. Keep reading. Keep going down under the earth and coming up overflowing with story and light.
Calvino’s famous quote on reading from If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler: “In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which are frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you…And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. ”
Dr. Kate Gale is Managing Editor of Red Hen Press, Editor of the Los Angeles Review and President of the American Composers Forum, LA. She teaches in the Low Residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska in Poetry, Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction. She serves on the boards of A Room of Her Own Foundation, Kore Press and Poetry Society of America. She is author of five books of poetry and six librettos including Rio de Sangre, a libretto for an opera with composer Don Davis which had its world premiere October 2010 at the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee. Her current projects include a co-written libretto, Paradises Lost with Ursula K. LeGuin and composer Stephen Taylor, and a libretto based on The Inner Circle by T. C. Boyle, based on Dr. Kinsey’s life with composer Daniel Felsenfeld which is in production in 2014 by the American Opera Projects. Her newest book is The Goldilocks Zone from the University of Nebraska Press in January 2014, and her forthcoming book Echo Light is from Red Mountain Press fall of 2014.