Applying To Yaddo
July 23, 2012 § 5 Comments
I’m applying to Yaddo, the artists’ retreat, because I never have time to write my book. They’ve asked for letters of recommendation. Because the whole concept of such letters is alien to my way of life–as well as thoroughly embarrassing–the only person whose arm I could bring myself to twist, was my sweet husband.
So this morning I get an e-mail asking for more letters of recommendation. If you’re familiar with my work and would like to write a letter for me, please do, and keep it short. [UPDATE 2 PM: WE’RE DONE! THANK YOU, FRIENDS & COLLEAGUES! ]
On Jul 23, 2012, at 8:42 AM, Ellissa Griffin <email@example.com> wrote:
Hello Jacqueline-I am writing to you from Yaddo to let you know that you will need two letters of recommendation in order to be considered for this round. As of today, I do see only one letter pending. Best of luck to you, EllissaEllissa M. GriffinAdministrative AssistantThe Corporation of Yaddo
On July 23, 2012, at 9:33:41, Jacqueline Austin sent:
Thanks, Ellissa! Everyone’s so busy, I hate to ask them to write a letter instead of doing their work!
Here’s a story about a letter of recommendation. When applying to Columbia, I asked my mentor at that time, John Gardner, to write one. He enthusiastically said yes, he loved my work and my spirit, and promised he would write a great, a glowing letter.
To my pleased astonishment, I got into the program. There, my teachers included Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe, Robert Haas, William Styron, the first group of Chinese writers to escape the Cultural Revolution, Edmund White, and many others of that stature. The whole program was taught by real writers, hired by the semester, who were carrying the torch of literature and burning with spirit and desire. Borges even tottered up from Argentina on his two canes, blind and weak, to talk about cowboy literature and his own fiction. My co-students were Susan Minot, Mona Simpson, Henri Cole, and others like that. I critiqued the first draft of Anywhere But Here, Riding in Cars With Boys, and many other then-future prestige projects.
Throughout the whole program I felt over awed–who wouldn’t?–and ascribed any wobbly success I’d miraculously achieved, to that letter from John Gardner. I was so grateful to him. Whenever I read my work aloud, I would say his name.
At the end of the program, Dan Halpern, the chair, handed us all our acceptance and assessment files, so we could see how far we had come. I was particularly eager to read John’s recommendation, and to bring from there whatever pearls of wisdom, and, even better, any deep personal insights he’d had about me, till now kept secret, into the rest of my writing life. Also, by then, John Gardner had died (motorcycle crash). His students were in mourning. I knew I would treasure anything personal he’d said.
My file, astonishingly, was empty. Quite upset, I confronted Dan about my letter.
He scratched his curly hair. “What letter?”
There had been none.
I’m not saying that John Gardner didn’t hand me a treasure. The treasure he handed me was: I’d done it on my own.
I would prefer if Yaddo used my recommendation from John Gardner. It’s the kind of recommendation I’ve since found to be utterly useful in my professional life. Here’s a copy……
Isn’t it great?
It’s not that I don’t know accomplished people, but I’m embarrassed to ask, and don’t know if it’s truly necessary.
But okay, since it’s required, I’ll send requests to one or two more people.
xx Jackie Austin