Why Are Boston Writers Special? They'll Tell You What They Know
Groups of writers can be competitive, cagey, and unwilling to share what they know, but when Grub Instructor Jonathan Escoffery came to Boston, he found the supportive community he'd been looking for. Teen writers can catch Jonathan in person on Saturday, October 21st, in his YAWP class, Publishing Your Short Work: Submission Tips to Get Your Work Out There! This essay was originally published by The Writers' Room of Boston, where Jonathan is the 2017 Ivan Gold Fellow.
When I arrived in Boston three years ago, it was my second cross-country move as an adult. The first took me from my native Miami to Minneapolis, to enter into the University of Minnesota’s MFA program. When I left Miami, I left with conviction; I can’t say I was certain about what I would gain from my program or my new city, but I knew I was investing in my writing career, and that was more than enough reason to go.
To an extent, I left to find community--to find my tribe.
In the years prior to my departure, I had cobbled together a loose network of novice writers in Miami with whom I shared work—some of whom remain my closest friends. Despite the dozens of workshops we’d attended between us, though, information about how to get our writing out into the world seemed elusive.
We met weekly to stitch together insight we’d acquired through research and the few relationships we’d formed with more advanced writers. I recall one friend handing me a binder with details on MFA programs, while another showed me the first proper CV I’d ever seen.
I recall, too, that this information sharing seemed precious and rare, somehow unattainable even through our college tuition. One writing professor—particularly generous with his time, in most cases—responded to our request for guidance on submitting to literary magazines, “Do you really think you’re ready for that?” I recognized in that moment that I’d met my first information hoarder, my first gatekeeper. It’s also possible that this professor was simply too far removed from the practice—one argument for why writing programs need younger faculty members.
My writing group—comprised of first-generation college graduates—did the job of lifting each other up from ignorance, and into our respective graduate programs, but the battle was hard-won.
Boston Harbor at Sunset.
After earning my MFA, I came to Boston by accident, and with the vague idea that it was a city where writers thrive. My experience has shown this to be true. While rents and the cost of living are astronomical—a huge obstacle for most artists—Boston writers are rich with community. And what’s perhaps most astounding about Boston is how easily information is handed to me now that I’ve plugged into the writing community here. What stands out is the willingness with which established authors and literary professionals share what they know. I wouldn’t have applied for any of the four fellowships I received this year if I hadn’t learned about them from my writer friends. If my partner, Sarah, didn’t show me how to write a query, I likely wouldn’t have found my agent when I did, and without my community, I’d never have found her.
Perhaps the most valuable information I’ve learned since leaving Miami is that when it comes to getting your writing out into the world, it’s not just about who you know, but about who’s willing to share what they know with you.
Jonathan Escoffery is the author of If I Survive You, a collection of humorous and harrowing linked stories following a Jamaican-American family as they seek stability upon moving to Miami, navigating cultural dislocation, tenuous family ties, and the many, conflicting meanings of Black American identity, forthcoming fall 2022 from MCD/ FSG, as well as the forthcoming novel, Play Stone Kill Bird. He is the winner of the 2020 Plimpton Prize for Fiction, the 2020 ASME Award for Fiction, and a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Literature fellowship. His writing has appeared in The Paris Review, American Short Fiction, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, ZYZZYVA, Pleiades, AGNI, The Best American Magazine Writing 2020, and elsewhere. Jonathan earned his MFA in Fiction from the University of Minnesota and attends the University of Southern California’s Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature Program as a Provost Fellow. He is a 2021-2023 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. For a full listing of his publications and projects, please visit jonathanescoffery.comSee other articles by Jonathan Escoffery