Years ago I taught a women’s writing class which met in the cafeteria of a nearby elementary school. Working-class mothers of grown children and longtime residents of Somerville, Suzanne, Gladys, Harriet, and Mary were blessed, as was I, their rookie teacher, that Irene, born and raised in Boston’s North End, showed up on Tuesday nights, too. Tiny, with knowing, amused, button eyes and a wry wit, every week Irene told beguiling, detail-rich stories from her “Little Italy” childhood which, no matter what the in-class prompt, she could instantly scribble.  Given Irene’s star power, maybe it wasn’t surprising that when it was Suzanne’s turn to share, she’d begin with “This stinks!”

Except that it didn’t. Mother of eight and grandmother of many, whose unhappy relationship with her adoptive mother and father was strongly hinted at but never spelled out, Suzanne was a sensuous writer. ( I once told one of her daughters that; not well-received information!) Suzanne felt. Deeply. She probed. She mused. She speculated on paper. Like her foggy childhood, what she offered aloud each week was through-a glass-darkly. And brief: maybe five or six sentences to Irene’s scribbled page, page and a half. But true; painfully true, sometimes. Had she enough time—and her own thesaurus (something I’m only now wondering about)—would she have felt more satisfaction with her work? I’d like to think so.

Re-entering my writing life after nearly a year, I’m remembering Suzanne’s self-assessment. Yup. Compared to every gifted writer I’ve ever read, this stinks, too. As I again begin to hone my craft, may Suzanne’s humility and, much more importantly, her integrity inform whatever I can do.



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