I have been thinking about the question, “Why do we write?” I am taking creative writing senior seminar this semester, and preparing to graduate and remove myself from the bubble of academia that is college. Much of the content of senior seminar focuses on the “practical” value of writing: how to make money, or prestige. I find myself thinking cynically about the reasons that we write publicly. Why must writers subject themselves to criticism, a relentless judgment of good and bad, an entrance into a system of capital and an exclusive network of social connections? Does all of this serve the purpose of writing?
I recently read The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, a correspondence between poet James Wright and writer Leslie Marmon Silko. The letters highlighted the value of writing at its most simple: a way to communicate thoughts to another. The correspondence began when Wright wrote to Silko after hearing her read at a writer’s conference. Wright reveals in his first letter that he felt he needed to reach out to Silko after reading her novel Ceremony. He writes, “I am trying to say that my very life means more to me than it would have meant if you hadn’t written Ceremony.” The relationship forged through these letters is built on a foundation of mutual admiration of published writing, and reveals that writing is really about attempting to add something to the world that will be of value to others.
The letters show us the raw building blocks of a close relationship, exemplify incredible craft, and are a testament to the power and necessity of writing. Both writers express their confidence, and frustration that their relationship exists beyond the reaches of the written word. The correspondence ended when Wright died. His last writing to her was a postcard on which he wrote only, “I can’t write much of a message. Please write to me.” In her response, which arrived after his death, Silko wrote, “No matter if written words are seldom because we know, Jim, we know.” This record of the interaction of great writers reveals that writing is not about selling books, or getting awards, but about building something powerful enough to defy the hold of the words that comprise the practical existence of the writing.