My Dad loved to tell a story about my cousin who, when he was in first grade, came downstairs one morning, set a copy of Black Beauty on the corner of the kitchen table, and said, “Nobody move that. We’re learning to read today and I’m going to read it when I get home.” Family lore does not record how the little six-year-old felt when he came home and couldn’t read his beloved Black Beauty that evening. I can imagine his disappointment. I wonder if it colored his feelings about reading thereafter?
Great Expectations. A Dream Deferred. Many titles of both books and poetry speak to this story of a little boy believing that “learning to read” would immediately and fully open up the door to words, and books, and all the mysteries therein. Great expectations and dreams deferred are part of a writer’s life as well.
How many of us, as new writers, have believed our manuscript to be an exciting, wondrous thing, and have sent it out to a publisher then eagerly awaited the news that would surely come, that the publisher loved our book and would be adding it to their list? And how many of us have felt the keen, sharp pain of that first rejection letter, felt our great expectations become a dream deferred? I wonder how many writers give up at that point?
Both emerging readers and emerging writers need to learn to persevere (one of my grandmother’s favorite words — I always hear it in her Scottish voice when I read it). Perhaps we need to adjust our dreams a little, or rather, recognize that there are slow and careful steps to be taken as we work toward the realization of our dreams. So we work, and we get exasperated, and we try out words, and stumble over them, but bit by bit we build our confidence at stringing words together, bit by bit we start to see real stories emerging — and eventually, like a new reader who has all the world of books now open to her/his delight, we are ready to soar.
As another of Langston Hughes’ poems about dreams exhorts us,
Hold fast to dreams,
for if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird
that cannot fly.
How do you hold fast to your dreams?