Writing and Mentorship During the Pandemic
Ellen Kazimer & Lisa C. Taylor | December 2020
COVID-19 was a continent away when I applied to the AWP Writer to Writer mentorship program. Yet, by the time the mentorship ended, the world had been turned upside down and twisted by the virus. COVID-19 decidedly affected my work in more ways than one.
Indeed, staying home meant more time to write, but others in my family were working from home as well. I struggled at times to stay focused and not get distracted by the news or concern about the future. Other times, writing through the pandemic was cathartic and provided a brief respite from the real world.
Still, COVID-19 was hard to ignore. For several years, my audience and characters were young. However, older voices, octogenarians and nonagenarians, called to me. Their long histories and complicated relationships with family members and caretakers became the inspiration for a series of short stories I wanted to write. As COVID spread throughout the country, the elderly emerged as the group most vulnerable to the virus. Despite the complications of aging, I know that many seniors watch the news with dread and chafe at the isolation and confinement meant to protect them. COVID-19 gave me new stories to tell and made me more determined to give my characters a voice.
Throughout the Writer to Writer program, Lisa C. Taylor was patient and thoughtful in her guidance. I could not have asked for a better mentor through this extraordinary time. Lisa recommended exemplary short story writers and their work, as well as books on craft. She was generous in sharing her own experiences and provided me with solid ideas for revision.
COVID-19 may have temporarily shaken my faith in the future, but the AWP Writer to Writer Program gave me the confidence to pursue my creative vision. I am grateful to Lisa and Writer to Writer. I am hopeful future travels will allow us to meet up in the future.
In my second experience as an AWP mentor for W2W, I had the good fortune of being a mentor to Ellen Kazimer, a skilled and experienced writer. The COVID-19 pandemic was not yet an issue when I signed on to mentor. I was drawn to Ellen’s desire to tell the stories of the elderly and infirm, people often overlooked in our society. COVID-19 has made the elderly into a different kind of target—the sacrifice for re-opening too early so the young and healthy can return to their lives and their employment. As time went on, her writing became even more relevant because of her talent for writing these vulnerable characters as full-bodied people with interesting pasts and important contributions. I grieve at the thought that we could lose these stories. It reminds me of dialects that die out with the deaths of the last members of a tribe fluent in that language. Languages matter and stories matter. It is part of the vast quilt of humanity that we make together.
I was glad to be able to point Ellen to writing and craft resources that I hope will be helpful to her work. Her stories of people who are often silenced are important. Some cultures revere their elders, but in America, we seem more enamored of youth. How sad that we trivialize the contributions of the elderly. Most Nobel laureates and many notable scholars fall into that demographic. There is no substitute for decades of experience, nor is there any question that living history and then telling it is more valuable than simply researching it. As the last Holocaust survivors die, it is important that we preserve their stories.
Ellen Kazimer’s talent in highlighting octogenarians and nonagenarians brings the richness of history into fiction. There is a place in literature for this. Working with her made me reconsider how I represent the elderly in my own writing. I hope we get to meet in the future. I thoroughly enjoyed her insights, her stories, and her keen eye for detail.