A Manuscript Critique Sale to Benefit Caregivers – And A Little Personal History, Too
By Robin Black
Any interest in having your prose or poetry manuscript reviewed by the likes of Philip Levine, Elizabeth McCracken, Ron Carlson, Tony Hoagland, or perhaps some other equally amazing author?? There’s an app for that. . .or anyway, there’s a website. And you’ll be doing good (important good) at the same time. . .
A little personal background first:
February 10, 2012
We crossed at Warren Wilson but never met, I think. I just wanted to write to say how I admire your efforts for caregivers.
Not only do I have a disabled daughter – learning and social issues, incredibly difficult, incredibly draining, the great creative act of my life – but I grew up in a home with my grandmother, paralyzed from the waist down and fully bedridden. I watched my mother, at the time a graduate student then professor at Yale, lose much of her life to her mother’s care. By the time I was eleven years old, I was fully involved with cooking for Grandma, with much of the shopping by thirteen, and I took years off from college to care for her as she was dying. In other words, I am in a position to know of what I speak when I say that caregivers NEED what you are doing.
I find ways to get my respites. Never enough, but sixteen years into this, I have figured out how key that is to survival and to remaining engaged in my work. And I just had to write and say how glad I am that you are doing this to help others.
I wish you all the best with these projects.
My impression of Heather McHugh from my grad school days was that she was awfully appealing, clearly brilliant, unusual in all the best ways, and probably someone whose evident warmth would never beam my way. She was a poet. I wrote fiction. She was a superstar. I was a student – and, what’s more, a student who throughout her grad school years was subject to odd bouts of shyness. I wasn’t the type to seek out the Big Names and try to befriend them, even when I thought they looked like people I would like.
I wished at the time, in a fleeting kind of way, that I was in her circle; but then, to be honest, after I graduated, I rarely thought of her again for many years, until she won the MacArthur “Genius” Grant and I thought (as I don’t always think when awards are handed out) “Well, that makes real sense. That’s good.”
But I had no idea how good, nor that her win would change my life – not to mention the lives of dozens of others, some in profoundly important ways. But yes, Heather McHugh had won a MacArthur, and that seemed like a good thing.
Some news arrives in trickles, not announcements of prizewinners, there as a black and white list, but little drips of first one rumor and then a small fact, a mention, an allusion. And this is how I got word that Heather McHugh would be using her grant money to provide caregivers with time off.
Using her MacArthur money to help others? I have known MacArthur winners since I was a child, but had never heard of such a thing. Perhaps it isn’t unique, but surely it is rare. I was intrigued. And then I was impressed. And then I was unable to keep from writing to express my gratitude.
Heather’s response to the message I sent was a tiny, fierce hurricane contained in type and bytes. She whirled and effused. She bowed to me – as a representative of all caregivers, the one who happened to be on her screen at the time. She described her passion for the project. She described her exhaustion. She was overwhelmed. She was overwhelming. Seemingly unfiltered. Driven by a kind of devotion to an idea, even an ideal, in a way one reads about sometimes, but rarely encounters.
She was irresistible.
Two months later, I joined her in St. Helena, California, to strategize and plan while eating amazing meals – Heather understanding that pleasure, delight, can often spark innovation. I learned more about how she came to be involved in this work – a story I will leave for her to tell, as it’s personal. But what I will share is that Heather’s commitment to multitudes grew from her love for a few, and from the sense so many of us have, when those we love are struggling, that we wish we could do more. . . a wish most of us don’t respond to by founding a non-profit and devoting untold hours of dedicated work to it.
That devotion along with the daring of both Heather’s imagination and her heart, has already helped nearly thirty caregivers to severely disabled family members experience what may well be their only week off for many decades. (Decades. That’s worth pondering.) Heather herself has accompanied many on their holidays, she has listened and listened, she has doubtless, because she is Heather, irrepressible to her soul, also talked a good deal. And she has given a gift that didn’t even exist until she imagined that it might.
My very modest contribution has been to devise a fundraising scheme. Heather believed, and I do as well, that as CAREGIFTED was founded by an artist who understands the interplay of compassion and the arts, it is fitting for our fundraising efforts to involve the arts. I had long wondered why no writing-related non-profits I saw were selling manuscript consultations as a form of fundraising. It seemed so sensible and low-cost a way of matching authors willing to donate time, with emerging writers who might be happy to pay for help; and having that interaction benefit the organization that made the match.
I mentioned it to Heather on that trip, in St. Helena, and she got it right away. In January of 2013 we held our first sale of manuscript critiques, which, due to enormous generosity on all sides, was one of CAREGIFTED’s most successful fundraising efforts yet.
And now we are holding our second on November 25th, 2014. Rae Armantrout, Joanna Rakoff, Janet Burroway, Dean Young. . and the list goes on and on, new names arriving every day. . . Laura van den Berg, Michael Martone, Billy Collins, Cornelius Eady . . .
I cannot possibly list them all. The list grows even as I write. . . Thomas Lux. . . Matthea Harvey. . . Daisy Fried. . .
And this time, we are adding a new (more affordable) possibility. For fiction writers who don’t have a completed manuscript or can’t afford a critique for 200 pages, some AMAZING authors are contributing critiques of individual stories. . . Matt Bell, Therese Ann Fowler, Natalie Serber. . .
Again, the sale date is November 25th, 2014. The details will soon appear on CAREGIFTED’s website. If you are a writer, if you know a writer in need of a gift, please check it out. And if you care about the lives of those whose own lives are spent caring for others, please do share this post and any others you notice about our efforts and this opportunity – which, in many cases, is a one time possibility for a critique of this sort.
Rebecca Makkai, Brenda Shaughnessy, Major Jackson, Alexander Chee. . .
This is a little hokey, but I’m saying it anyway. The world doesn’t have a lot of people willing to give their financial, emotional, and spiritual all to the care of strangers in desperate need of kindness and generosity. Heather McHugh is such a person. CAREGIFTED is such an organization. I consider myself blessed to be affiliated with it and with her. And I promise, if you find a way, however large or small, to help CAREGIFTED you too will feel blessed.
And here’s the thing. CAREGIFTED really needs this money. Even MacArthur Grants eventually run out – sometimes long before the passion of the recipient to use her own good fortune to aid others has waned at all. . .
Please find us here, and please help spread the word.
With heartfelt thanks for all support,
And in alphabetical order. . . as of today:
Rae Armantraut, Mary Jo Bang, Matt Bell, Janet Burroway, Ron Carlson, Alexander Chee, Billy Collins, Nicholas Delbanco, Mark Doty, Cornelius Eady, Therese Ann Fowler, Daisy Fried, Linda Gregerson, Mark Halliday, Matthea Harvey, Tony Hoagland, Major Jackson, Ben Lerner, Philip Levine, Thomas Lux, Rebecca Makkai, Michael Martone, Elizabeth McCracken, Joyelle McSweeney, Eileen Myles, Lucia Perillo, Joanna Rakoff, Roger Rosenblatt, Natalie Serber, Brenda Shaughnessy, Rebecca Wells, Joe Wenderoth, Hilma Wolitzer, Laura van den Berg, Dean Young, Matthew Zapruder . . .