we don't foresee the gifts we're given: an unexpected honor for THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

On Saturday afternoon the phone rang. It was my father on the line. He'd just collected his mail, opened a package from the University of Pennsylvania, and discovered my most recent novel, This Is the Story of You, featured in "a selection of books by University of Pennsylvania faculty and alumni authors curated just for you."

Adam Grant, Lisa Scottoline, Angela Duckworth, Jordan Sonnenblick, Jennifer Yu, Allison Winn Scotch, Frances Jensen, Jody Foster, Joshua Bennett, and, somehow, me.

My childhood friend, Susan Renz, also received a copy. It is her photograph above.

This is the thing about this writing life: we may wish for many things, but we rarely see the gifts coming.

 In 1998, I was far away, in London, when I discovered several notes stuffed under the hotel room door, notes imploring me to call my editor and my agent right away. The news? My first book had been nominated for a National Book Award. What? I said, many times, after I connected with dear Amy Rennert, after I spoke with the courageous editor who had said yes to my book, Alane Mason. Can you help me understand?

I was doing the bills when I learned I won a Pew Fellowships grant.

I was talking to my mother when I learned I won a poetry prize.

I was sitting in the New York Times auditorium when Meredith Vieira called me to the stage to receive an award for Handling the Truth. My shoes were too tall. I could barely get there.

And, this past Saturday, I was sitting very still, reading Camille Dungy's powerful new collection of essays, Guidebook to Relative Strangers, when my father called and began to explain the package he'd received.

What? I said, many times.

There are so many things I have hoped for in this writing life, and most of those things have proven elusive. Just last month a near promise on a new book turned to a fizzle. Just yesterday, something I had been hoping for slipped through my pale fingers. And then there are these unforeseen, unimagined, even, moments when someone (you don't know who, and you'd like to thank them) says, in one way or the other, you have been seen.

To that special whomever within The Penn Fund who thought to include my work in this remarkably diverse and interesting list of titles: You have surprised me. You have heartened me. Thank you.


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