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“I haven’t read a children’s book in years!” the professor told me over the edge of his teacup when I shared the news: having been given the chance to do research towards a PhD, I’d switched fields of study, would be learning about an author of children’s literature, and was looking forward to it. How refreshing, I thought, to take seriously something that serious people often brush aside. This was to be our final conversation (although, if you are out there and reading this, I’d like to chat again, sir, perhaps to change your mind).

Why haven’t you? What springs to his mind when he hears “children’s book” anyway? What springs to yours? What judgments and feelings spring along with it?

There is a poem in Andrea Davidson’s book Eggenwise, written as a letter to her mom, where she reflects on what it means to be both sad and happy to leave a place. These seemingly contradictory emotions run throughout the collection as she tries to make sense of moving to a different country and learning new words and meeting new people. It is, in many ways, a lot like what I am going to be doing next, though in a more metaphorical sense. I will not be hopping on a plane anytime soon or learning a new language, but I am very sadly saying goodbye to the home that I’ve made here at The Emma Press.

There’s a story called ‘Saint Sebastian Mounts the Cross’ in Parables, Fables, Nightmares that includes two quotations from two collections by the creative-writing guru John Gardner. I am a card-carrying, sleeping-inside-a-tent-outside-the-venue Gardnerite, having come to his books The Art of Fiction, On Moral Fiction, and On Becoming a Novelist multiple times, often in crisis, over the course of my writing life. The quotes refer to his theory that many if not most writers work from a ‘wound’—in our near or far past there’s something that happened that turned us to writing, that made all the hours spent alone conjuring worlds seem like a sensible thing to do. In Gardner’s case it was an almost unimaginable tragedy, for some writers it’s the shock of a loss, a move, or a sudden change in circumstance with effects that lingered on for decades, for others it’s an ongoing suffering that’s even greater. For the collective it’s the catalyst, the spur, the thing that, at root, all our work thinks through. 

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