“The act of writing about writing should carry with it a bright flashing neon warning sign that reads Danger: Potential Self-Absorption Ahead.”

The quote is the first line of a review in EW by Keith Staskiewicz. (The pink neon is mine; I couldn’t figure out how to get it to flash.) It reminded me of yesterday’s post, but also made me buy the book, particularly when Staskiewicz went on to praise it. 

Other people might think writing about writing is self-absorbed, but it endlessly fascinates me. Especially when other people do it.

 This memoir, about Tom Grimes’ relationship with his mentor, Frank Conroy, is not for writers with a tendency toward literary jealousy, as early in the book, Conroy, who heads up the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the time Grimes recounts, tells Grimes he’s writing the great American novel. He clearly dotes on Grimes above all the other Iowa students, offering almost immediately to introduce him to one of the top literary agents in the country.

That kind of thing never happens to me. My first mentor stuck his hand down my blouse when my little boys were in the next room. I was so shocked and appalled it almost put me off poetry forever. Then my next mentor, after publishing more than a hundred poems, developed severe writer’s block soon after we met and wrote no more than a dozen poems for the rest of her life. Then there was the mentor who offered me a golden opportunity that somehow went all to hell. Wait. I had three of those.

As a teacher, I’ve been a mentor myself. I’ve been stalked and disdained, adored and ignored, hounded and hated. It’s not an easy gig, although Conroy and Grimes make the whole thing look charmed. At least so far. I haven’t finished the book yet, although I fell asleep last night reading into the wee hours.


  1. For me, the best mentors are the ones I never meet, like Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg and dozens of other writers whose books on writing inspire me. Finished “Mentor” earlier, and it was really really wonderful. And not all rosy.


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