Editor’s Note

Poets and Writers - - Contents -

MY WIFE AND I RE­CENTLY HAD DIN­NER WITH A COU­PLE IN our neigh­bor­hood whose kids are about the same age as ours and who share many of our in­ter­ests. They also have a good sense of hu­mor, part of the foun­da­tion of any good friend­ship, so our fam­i­lies get to­gether not in­fre­quently. But this par­tic­u­lar oc­ca­sion was no­table for its—how shall I put it—lively af­ter­dinner con­ver­sa­tion. Whether it was due to our hec­tic work and school sched­ules, the ap­proach­ing midterm elec­tions, the im­pend­ing win­ter, or “the gen­eral din of the world,” as poet Jane Mead once wrote, that evening we ques­tioned, chal­lenged, and ar­gued with one an­other about a wide range of top­ics, in­clud­ing pol­i­tics and lit­er­a­ture. Ten­sions rose, sim­mered, rose higher still, and cooled. It was a safe en­vi­ron­ment, so we were free to air it all out, make mis­takes, push and pro­voke, and af­ter­ward there was a mu­tual feel­ing that we knew one an­other, and per­haps even our­selves, a lit­tle bet­ter.

Maybe it’s be­cause I grew up in the seven­ties in ru­ral Wis­con­sin, where I was taught to keep my opin­ions to my­self, where hu­mil­ity was planted in me with the same reg­u­lar­ity as the corn and al­falfa that grew in the fields sur­round­ing our house—or sim­ply be­cause I’m a writer who is pro­tec­tive of his time—but I usu­ally need some coax­ing to go out on a Satur­day night and chat for six hours. And that’s sad, re­ally, be­cause I know full well that right now, as writ­ers, as cit­i­zens, as hu­man be­ings, we need to break out of the pro­tec­tive bub­ble we build around our­selves and talk.

Read­ers will no­tice that two of the fea­tures in this is­sue run un­der a head­line with vari­ants of that very word in it. In “Talk­ing to Strangers” (page 38), Kate Tut­tle shows how non­fic­tion writer Su­san Or­lean has made an en­tire ca­reer of do­ing ex­actly that. Tut­tle writes, “Her ap­proach is to lead with what she calls ‘the democ­racy of cu­rios­ity,’ the idea that the peo­ple she in­ter­views know more about their own lives than she will ever know.” Now that’s a con­cept we could all ap­ply to our own work a lit­tle more of­ten.

And in “A Talk in the Woods” (46), Bar­bara King­solver and Richard Pow­ers, two best-sell­ing nov­el­ists who had never met, en­gage in one of the most thought­ful, in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing, and in­spir­ing con­ver­sa­tions about the craft of writ­ing that I’ve ever lis­tened to—which is, of course, an­other amaz­ing thing that hap­pens when we take the time to talk to one an­other: We lis­ten.

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