Digging for Words

One writer's quest to bring the past to life through imagination

The Meaning of Mentors

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Thinking about mentors and what they’ve meant to me, I came across an essay by Joyce Carol Oates, In the Absence of Mentors/Monsters, from this Fall’s issue of Narrative. (You have to create an account, but you can read the article for free.)

I was fascinated to read that she didn’t feel that she had mentors so much as friends – fellow writers who influenced her thoughts and experiences sometimes more than her writing.

Though I can’t boast a slew of literary giants among my friends (yet!), in many ways my experience has been similar. I count my writer friends as my supports, as teachers and compassionate listeners who can understand the strife and striving of my work as well as its joy and freedom.


The thought of mentors grew more pointed when a friend and writer in our circle came to me the other day with a box full of cassettes she’d found at a garage sale. It was an audio version of “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle read by the author herself. She’d bought it for me knowing my boys would adore it, but also because she knew that Madeleine had been one of my teachers.

I stuck the tape into the player in my car – the only place in my life where an old cassette can be heard these days – and listened to Madeleine reading her classic work. It brought back more memories than I can share in this small space.

When I think of Madeleine now, I recall that my relationship with her was never really intimate, though her warmth and generosity made all of her students feel cherished. Still, it was the web of friendships that were woven from her class that eventually became my personal and creative lifeline for almost twenty years.

I think of them particularly now as a group of us have gotten together to produce a book of remembrances of Madeleine that will soon be published. Called “A Circle of Friends”, and edited and produced with the incredible dedication of another dear writer friend, Katherine Kirkpatrick, the book truly represents what Madeleine created, what we became and still are – a circle of support that crosses the boundaries of creative or professional interests to something that binds much more deeply.

I’ve watched over the years as each of you has joined our Writers Circle, as we’ve grown to know each other through sharing our work, as some have drifted away and sometimes returned. I know that many of you are often in touch, whether I’m involved in the communication or not, and that you’ve grown your own connections and supports, just as we did coming away from our workshops with Madeleine.

It is the magic of those connections – honest, genuine, real life relationships – that help us learn and grow. If I can do half as well as Madeleine did in helping to expand that enduring network of friends and mentors, then the work of the Writers Circle is a consummate success, whether anyone ever publishes or not.

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Author: Judith

Judith Lindbergh's latest novel, Pasture of Heaven, is about a nomad woman warrior on the Central Asian steppes in the 5th century BCE. (And there really were!) Her first novel, The Thrall's Tale, is a literary historical novel about three women in the first Viking Age settlement in 10th century Greenland. The Thrall's Tale was a Booksense Pick and a Borders Original Voices selection. Judith is also the founder and director of The Writers Circle, a creative writing program offering workshops for children and adults.

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