Lately I’ve been thinking about how my father used to say, There’s no such thing as the self-made man. Think about it.
It was one of my father’s ongoing arguments with the world, with American optimism, and with the whole idea that anyone can succeed if he or she works hard enough. (My father grew up during the Depression. And, as he put it, his own father lost his shirt. As a young girl I always pictured my grandfather shirtless.) My mother would simply roll her eyes once Dad got started. And I would think one of my favorite books, Harold and the Purple Crayon, which I re-titled it, Harold and the Purple Wand.
Harold is self-made, I would say. Harold can draw the world and make it into anything he wants because he has a purple wand. (Was I the only one that noticed it wasn’t a crayon Harold held?)
Alone in my room, I daydreamed about what I would do with a purple wand. I drew endless pictures in purple. Sometimes I imagined making myself into a girl with wings. (Who doesn’t want to fly?) Other times a star.
My father, an artist and architect, took great interest in my artwork. But he wasn’t a fan of the Harold stories, or of my purple sketches. I would try to shield my paper to keep him away. Once, he pointed out that even Harold didn’t make himself into a star. He could only draw stars. Or make others into stars. (He was, back then, a bit too philosophical for my child-mind.)
In spite of his criticism, I spent days drawing purple girls, imagining myself as a kind of Haroldina, who wore glasses just as I did, but who lived in a world I could only dream of.
As an architect, my father took on many apprentices in his day. He spent hours both going over their blueprints and introducing them to builders and potential clients. He told me once that he never felt fully credited or thanked for his help. After his funeral, one of the architects he trained told me what a pain-in-the-ass my dad was. Without asking, my father would correct his blueprints, and he never thought anything anyone else drew was quite right. But his influence, this man added, is still present in all that he designs. And if he had not had him as a teacher, he would not have become the architect he is today.
I think of my father when I think of all the people who have helped me and other poets and writers, all of those who are the bearers of purple wands in the literary world, who have made others into stars, who have changed the career paths of other poets and writers, often without bringing much attention to themselves. I am thinking of reviewers, editors, anthologists, book sellers, interviewers, translators, social media divas, those who run reading series, and all those that buy books, or who take the time to love and share poetry.
Given stardom, many writers simply bask in the light. They don’t think of all those who helped them shine. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t grateful. I think most of us just don’t quite know how to say thanks. Or how to say thank you enough. Because there is no enough.
So I thought I’d do a series of blog posts next week on just a few of the star-makers in the poetry world: a few of the reviewers, anthologists, editors, YOUTUBE reviewers, book sellers, and translators who have made others’ literary lives possible—and even wonderful at times.
Nin Andrews' is the author of several books including Why God Is a Woman, Our Lady of the Orgasm, and Southern Comfort. Her next collection, Miss August, will be published in May, 2017. You can find her and even sign up for her email (seriously?) by going to ninandrews.com.