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Just Keep Writing

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

It's late in the day, too late to start a large project, so I thought I might try creating a multi-media collage of some sort with old newspaper, ink, paint...whatever I could find that would capture the golden and rose-brown shadows of light on the lake out my library window. I sorted through my brushes and papers and acrylics and found everything but inspiration. I wanted old newsprint with bold classified sections and adds with the Marlboro Man selling sin to young women with over teased hair and bold pink plastic earrings. I wanted to paste LOVE on my canvas with a glue stick, smear it with acrylic and scrape the remains of the day with a pallet knife to reveal the masterpiece that my YouTube art instructors claim represents my soul. Sifting through my archives of old correspondence, I found a couple of files containing notes and newspaper articles belonging to Ellen Hunnicutt, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize in 1987 for her first novel: In the Music Library.

Ellen taught creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, published stories in "Boys Life" and numerous journals. In addition to the Drue Heinz, she received the Banta Award for her second novel: Suite for Calliope in 1988. She lectured at writing seminars and birthed another generation of writers. She had a pot of vegetable beef stew bubbling on the stove when I came to visit, and made a special trip to the store for white bread and whole milk for my girls. She pursed her lips while considering dinner conversation, then would shift slightly and smooth a napkin, or arrange a fork so as to punctuate her thoughts wordlessly. Ellen was my mother-in-law, my friend and even today, almost 18 years after her passing, Ellen is my mentor, whispering words of encouragement through the files of class notes and research she left behind.

I started tonight's journey looking for paint and paper and ended with a digital collage of sorts; I think she would approve. I'll leave you with an article written by Robert Kiesling, published in the UWM Post on Tuesday, September 6, 1988 (page 7) and some quotes from Mom:

"If you're writing about a subject you don't know about, the reader knows it immediately..."

"Making order on the outside is preparation for making order on the inside." [So, do a small task first, like cleaning out a drawer or closet to establish a disciplinary pattern.]

"It's hard to live life; harder than people think."

"The thing is just to keep writing."

Ellen Hunnicutt (UWM Post, Sep 6, 1988)

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