VI. A Book at Last (12/3/1982 – 12/29/1983)

Wesley McNair and Woody, ca. 1983

Among letters about mutual visits, hopes for a teaching position, new publications in magazines, and continuing adjustments of The Faces of Americans in 1853, is the most important news of this section: the acceptance of my book in August by the University of Missouri Press as the 1983 Devins Award winner, chosen by David Wagoner, who published my first poem in Poetry Northwest years before. I phoned Don immediately to give him the news, and I still remember his reply. “Wes,” he said, “I could kiss you.” As I say in my essay about our early correspondence (in Mapping the Heart), “I could have kissed him, too. I could have kissed the first ten people I saw.”

Argus Champion, 1983


I also notified Jerry Costanzo, editor of Carnegie Mellon University Press, who had written me a generous letter on February 1 about being unable to accept The Faces of Americans and his hopes of accepting it in the fall. In his response to my later news that the book had been taken by the University of Missouri, Costanzo offers the possibility of publishing my second book with him – though Don has already gotten “guarded interest” in my next book from David Godine.

The Faces of Americans in 1853

In August of 1983 Don has his own literary successes. His play, Ragged Mountain Elegies, is produced for the second time in Peterborough, New Hampshire. And he receives the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal for literary distinction at the Opera House in Newport, though I am unable to be in his audience, busy with summer teaching to pay for my son Sean’s first college year. Unfortunately, August is also the month of a setback for Jane that lasts throughout the fall: vertigo, resulting from an ear infection.

But Jane soldiers on, as does Don, even though he has deeply mixed emotions about the play he has written, feeling both high and low about it. “We must fear depression,” he writes on September 16, “[and] we must fear elation…There is no ending this unless we stop being poets and writers.” At another time, I might find wisdom in these words. But what I feel, looking forward to the publication of my first book and my Devins Award reading in Columbia, Missouri, is elation, without qualification.

[This section has 75 letters]