Last weekend, 26 writers and I celebrated the launch of the memoir anthology We Came to Say at my house with champagne, cake, and laughter. As the proud new authors chatted and signed each others’ gorgeous cobalt blue books, I reveled in a sort of teacher’s heaven, enjoying the front row seat of their publishing success. And I couldn’t help but think, too, about how easily this beautiful anthology had come together and how my students had helped me to overcome my lifelong resistance to activities with multiple steps (yes, you’re right: it does rule out a lot), my fear of the unknown and my phobia of pursuits where mistakes are likely to occur (yep, that too includes a great deal of the activities that take place on the planet). Was I, gulp, growing up? How had all this happened?
A few months ago, I woke up around 4am with a sweaty idea: I wanted a publication for my students’ work. The first vision was something as glamorous as a stapled newsletter.
No, no, it had to be something much better than that. And then, I thought, Why not a book? Really, why not? And this was how it started–the very beginnings of this amazing collection of 26 memoir pieces called We Came to Say, stories by people who’d come to writing after establishing full lives of work, friends, and family, stories of ordinary life full of extraordinary grace.
Let’s be clear: a year earlier this idea wouldn’t have gone too far past stapled newsletter. If someone told me then that I’d be self-publishing an anthology, I would have curled into a ball, whimpering No! It cannot be done! Self-publishing was out of the question. Too hard! Too confusing! Too many hoops! And, my lifelong refrain: Where would I even begin?
But a few months earlier, life had dragged me into self-publishing, as life has dragged me into all the good things I’ve resisted including an afternoon matinée of Wicked. I was coaching a student of mine, Kumi, through the process of writing a memoir during the last year of her life. I loved Kumi–loved her story of a childhood in World War II Shanghai, her early identity as a world citizen and the conviction with which she lived out her beliefs–and so when she asked me to help her publish her memoir, I dropped all my resistance (okay: I struggled and then dropped some of my resistance) and began researching the process of self-publishing. And this is what I found out: it can be the complicated nightmare. But just when I was about to despair, another student of mine—and one of the contributors of We Came to Say—Laura Hebert took me by the hand to a local espresso self-publisher called Third Place Press. And thanks to Third Place Press, Kumi’s story was published before she died on a snowy November afternoon, and I discovered a golden piece of knowledge: Self-publishing can be easy! Really!
So, fast forward a few months to the morning after the dream. I sent an email out to my students: Were they interested in contributing in anthology? Yes, they were! And within a few days, my dream was coming into reality and all these writers I’ve been working with through the University of Washington’s Extension Program and through my private coaching practice were working away on their submissions.
Zoom forward a few more months, and I’m driving up to Third Place Press (a mere 20 minutes from my house! easy! close! and really not as expensive as you might think, really) on a warm spring day to go pick up the first warm box of books. Warm books! Straight from the espresso publishing machine.
And then a week later, my house is full of celebrating writers and books. When everyone goes home, I flip once again through a copy of We Came to Say. There they are: the stories I’ve read and re-read, the voices that I have taught and who have taught me, the stories of loss, hope, forgiveness and ordinary grace. It is a beautiful book.
The We Came to Say writers include: Jennifer Landau, Paul Boardman, Jennifer Crowder, Eve M. Tai, Natalie Singer, Elizabeth Corcoran Murray, Johna Beall, Amber Wong, Kellini Walter, Carmen Konig D’Arcangelo, Lauren McGuire, Michael Boudreaux, Wendy Staley Colbert, Heather Patrick, Christiane Banta, Rosemary Orr, Andrea Margaret Franzen, Jeanne Verville, Abigail Carter, Peggy Nagae, Jean Engler, Wendy Hinman, Sue Wiedenfeld, John Mace, Ashly Moore, Laura Hebert.
Want a copy? You can purchase one for 16.95 plus 4 bucks shipping. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a copy. Woohoo!
I love this post, Theo. You deserve abundant congratulations for giving form to your dream, for lighting up your students, and for giving hope to those of us who shyly hope to do something similar one day.
Thanks for leading the way. Can’t wait for your next book; it speaks to many of us.
I’ll take one of these books. If you can bring it to UW on Tuesday, I could avoid shipping costs. 🙂
My first online customer! Thanks for your kind words, Deirdre. I love my work!
Thanks for making this happen, Theo. It really is a wonderful opportunity and honor to be included in this anthology.
Thanks, Ashly, for being a part of We Came to Say. Hey, I have your copy autographed by the authors ready for pick up.
I am so looking forward to reading your book, especially the chapter by a very dear lady, Laura Hebert, who blesses my life as her
mama- in-law. Congratulations to all and many thanks to their beloved teacher.