Friday, April 8, 2016

Anne Lamott at Lenoir-Rhyne University

"Lenoir–Rhyne University is a co-educational, private liberal arts university founded in 1891 and located in Hickory, North Carolina, USA. The university is affiliated with the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Every year for the past twenty-five years Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Visiting Writers Series has provided outstanding literary arts programming that is free and open to the public."  (read more -

I've only attended one other visiting writer event at Lenoir-Rhyne.  That was Pat Conroy.  Several years ago.

I should do more.

And I always say that I will . . . 

Maybe this time I really will


Anne Lamott has long been one of my literary icons.  As she is to many.

What writer doesn't own a copy of her "Bird by Bird?" which gave us the lesson that first drafts are shitty.  

Besides being the author of one of the best known "writer bibles," she writes essays that will tear your heart out, she has written novels, she's a teacher, a political activist, and as a public speaker she rocks the house.

Having the opportunity to hear her talk last night at Lenoir-Rhyne was an opportunity I was determined not to miss.

Even with snow in the forecast for the evening.  (which I didn't see even a flake of, thank goodness).

And, she was everything you could hope.

She writes a great deal about her faith, it's a huge part of who she is.  But she writes about it in a way that is not what most of us are used to in this sort of writing.

Truth be told, people writing and/or talking too much about their faith is uncomfortable for me.  That's probably all I need to say about that.

She writes straight from the hip and tells it like it is.  About everything.  Everything.  This is your first clue that "truth" is an important part of who Anne Lamott is.

She speaks exactly as she writes.

And, actually, I know this sounds crazy, but as soon as she started talking last night one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was "I would recognize her just by her voice."  Isn't that crazy?  But she sounds exactly like I have had her sounding in my mind as I have read her words.

And she began the evening shooting straight from the hip with words about our governor.  Needless to say, she is as horrified by his latest as most of us are.

HB2 has brought the state of NC, once again, into the public spotlight under the embarrassment of moving from its once progressively responsible self to the extreme irresponsible opposite.  Leaving many of our citizens behind.

Anne Lamott's first remarks to her audience were to apologize to us for having him represent us.

She received, in return, a riotous round of applause.  

But not from everyone.

Hickory, NC is, after all, a conservative part of the state.

Lenoir Rhyne, while being a liberal university, is still, after all, attached to the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

I kept thinking at the beginning of her talk that I should be writing some of what she was saying down.   But.  Most of what she talked about centered back around to quotes you can find all over the internet.  She is a most quotable soul.

Last night she spent most of her time talking to the audience as though it was a group of writers.  She said everyone she had met since arriving for this particular talk were writers which meant she had a lot to say to us.

And so, she said all the things most of us love her for.

She, in her inimitable "tell it like it is" persona, said, "The hard thing about being a writer is that you have to write."  

"You have to put your butt in the chair and just do it. Do it!"

All the things we already know.  Many of which we've learned from her.



The woman has something that so many don't.

A particular quiet charisma.

An honesty that can be off-putting from anyone else, but that you expect and hope for from Anne Lamott.

When she says "turn off your phone and write."  By golly, you want to turn off your phone and write.

When she repeats herself saying "just do it.  It starts now."  You believe her.  You want to start now.

When she tells us about reading E. L. Doctorow who said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you." You believe it when she tells you "This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

She compares writing to life situations a lot.  And had us all on the edge of our chairs while doing so.  She talked about her family.  A lot of which was not complimentary.  She is one who puts the truth ahead of most everything else - whether it's comfortable for those involved or not.

No one could hear Anne Lamott speak and ever, ever doubt her belief in “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Suffice to say I walked out of there feeling inspired.  Motivated.  Moved.

And yes, ready to get back to my manuscripts.  My first shitty drafts.  


She reminded me . . .  

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won't really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we'll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”

I had an hour and a half to drive home, back up the mountain to Boone, by myself.  A time to reflect on what I'd heard Anne Lamott tell us.


If you don't have a copy of "Bird by Bird," go get one.

Whether you write or not.

Read "Bird by Bird."

If you ever have an opportunity to hear Anne Lamott speak, I hope you won't let it pass you by.

And let me know what you think, okay?

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