Updated: Aug 8, 2020
Kimball Library in Randolph, Vermont, has hosted my writing workshops for a couple of years now, and it's one of my favorite places on earth, so as July turned to August, I began asking myself how I could do a fall writing workshop there in the middle of a pandemic. An added wrinkle is that I am in France and not at all ready to risk travel to the U.S.
First problem: What to offer in a workshop that would engage people's interest at a time when they are worried about how to put food on the table, how they'll pay the rent, and whether their children should go to school or not.
The answer that came to me was diaries.
Diaries are extremely useful documents, which is why they’ve been kept, by all sorts of people, since ancient times. Historians rely on them, families treasure them, and the diary keepers themselves refer to them for personal and professional reasons. One of the most famous diaries in the world was kept by a young girl who received a blank notebook on June 12, 1942, her thirteenth birthday, and began writing in it two days later. On July 6, Anne Frank and her family went into hiding. She made her last diary entry on August 1, 1944. The diary was retrieved by her Dutch protectors and given to her father, the family’s only survivor, after the war.
Diaries would also bring in people who might be skeptical about a writing workshop. People who spook at the word “writing” are okay with keeping a diary. I doubt my grandmother thought of herself as a writer when she jotted down the words “Lonesome day,” on October 28, 1944, as she worried about family members who were serving in the Pacific. And yet those words resonated with me in the spring of 2020, as I waited out a pandemic in Fontainebleau, France.
I called Lynne Gately at Kimball and explained my idea, and she immediately got it, for which I give her full credit, because I think my explanation was pretty garbled. The diary idea was newly hatched and could barely stand up on its own.
Because so many of us feel isolated by Covid-19, I wanted the keeping of diaries to also serve as a bridge, a connection between people. If we could connect individual diarists with even one other person, that connection might make a difference to somebody who is confined at home and deprived of social activities.
Lynne and I talked about a series of workshop sessions hosted by Kimball via Zoom, sessions in which people could share portions of their diaries and learn something about the history and purpose of diaries. So part of the program will be conducted online. But it was also important to us to enable people to share their diaries whether they are connected to the Internet or not. We have some ideas, but we would love to hear yours.
We'll soon make a formal announcement about the program. For now, I just wanna say that I'm ecstatic to be working with Lynne again, and grateful that Kimball is giving me this opportunity to reconnect with my Vermont friends. I just love my hometown library.