Saturday, April 27, 2013

Learning Curve

As a writer, it can sometimes be difficult to discuss your work with your family or for your family to understand the literary world, if they are outside it. I've found this to be true in my experience. Most of my family are not great readers of poetry and I know that my subject matter might make some of them uncomfortable. I also rely a lot on my own experiences, which can add to the discomfort. This can lead to odd conversations, but it mostly results in very little discussion. Everyone knows I write. Everyone knows my book came out. I've gotten the obligatory congratulations and my mother has made some more direct comments about the book and asks me about new work from time to time. I'm not sure if other family members have even read the whole book.

It can be frustrating that something you love and work hard at doesn't necessarily get as much recognition as say having a kid or buying a new house (normal things). But, at times, I also understand how the poetry world can be intimating and how many simply don't know what to say.

In March, when my book was named a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award and for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Poetry, I realized that the ceremony for the Thom Gunn Award was during the week that my parents had already planned a trip to New York (their first). I told them about the awards and they were excited, but, again, I'm not sure they fully grasped what it meant. They'd never heard of either award before I was named a finalist.

My parents arrived last Saturday and spent all week with my partner and me. Their visits are always fun and since they'd never been to New York, we took them everywhere. They were real troopers and did more walking than ever before and they truly loved the city.

On Thursday, I took them to the Triangle Awards and to my surprise the evening really connected with them. For maybe the first time, they understood what I've accomplished and it made everything a little more real. Of course, they are proud of me. I'm their son, but on this night they seemed to really realize that we were in a room full of very accomplished writers and publishers and that my very first book (published when I was just 29) had been recognized and named one of four finalists.

My parents were both born in the early 1950s and were raised in Indiana, where they lived until just four years ago when they moved to Houston, Texas. They have always supported me and my partner and I love them for that. They've also always supported my interest in writing. This support, however, hasn't always come with full understanding. At the Triangle Awards, they not only saw the significance of my accomplishments, but they also realized more and more that there's a lot of history in the gay community that they know nothing about.

After the awards ceremony, my mother mentioned how she didn't know anything about Stonewall (which had been mentioned in a speech). She was fascinated and the next day we took them by the bar. Then on Friday evening, while I taught class, my partner had them watch Milk. In one week, they not only learned all about New York City, they also got a real glimpse into the literary world and learned some gay history.

I might have lost the Thom Gunn Award to Richard Blanco, but I had a pretty amazing night and I'm glad my parents were there to see it.

-Stephen (Honored)


  1. This is so moving, Stephen. As I saw photos from your parents' visit pop on up Instagram over the week, I was mentally clapping my hands in delight for you. Even when one has parents that have always been supportive (as you and I both do), it still feels like quite a fraught thing to show them one's life and world. I'm so glad your folks were able to visit and attend the awards with you.

    Also, your mom is so gorgeous! She looks so young!

  2. I didn't know those were your parents! Your mom looks beautiful. Glad they had a nice time. Congrats!