Writers are construction workers.
We build vocabularies. We build fantasy worlds. We build up the confidence to share our stories with the world. But there’s one thing writers build that clearly outshines the rest.
We build communities.
Be it works of fiction or personal essays, writers create something people can relate to. Certain topics bring individuals together, uniting readers in a community called an audience.
The audience is an amorphous group. Maybe you associate fully with every aspect of the writing and the group assembled around it, like the zealous organizer of a family reunion. Maybe you pass in and out of contact with the central themes and members of the group as you grow and change, like the illusive cousin who never RSVPs. Maybe you fall somewhere in between.
But the best thing about building communities with writing, in my opinion, is the resounding feeling of companionship that grows as a result, no matter how short the duration of that connection. The nodding of heads in the audience as the words are read. The reassurance that someone else knows a part of what you’re going through. The spark of recognition in someone else’s eyes.
Reading for John Edgar Wideman and the Mighty Writers yesterday evening has reminded me what a literary community is all about. It’s about building a connection among people in a single moment. That connection may last, or it may disperse as the next writer takes the microphone and you return to your seat. But either way, in that moment, you’ve created something meaningful.
And you didn’t even have to wear a hard hat.