My tendency to shy away from self-introductions, especially as a literary artist, is one of the many reasons why I applied to Artist Trust’s 2014 EDGE Professional Development Program for Literary Artists. I received my BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts in 2011 and, since graduating, I’ve found my feet pounding a much quieter path towards the written word. It is a very different world than the one of stage lights and tech rehearsals, costume fittings and ensemble work. This new world, the world of literary arts, both fascinated and terrified me. I was unsure of where I stood as a developing artist entering into a new field, and the solitary nature of writing had only continued to steep my new identity in mystery. When I learned that I had been accepted into the program, I vowed to walk into each class with my mind and heart wide open.
Ten minutes into my first class, my saintly resolution was put to the test. Thirteen pairs of eyes stared in my direction. “Introduce yourself,” the speaker encouraged, “tell us a bit about who you are.” I groaned internally and paused to look down at the folded name card clutched in my hands. Very clearly, in a nice bold font, it read Stacy Lynn Gilbert. Good, that’s nice, hard, irrefutable evidence. I ran with it. “I am Stacy Lynn Gilbert.” I placed my name card in front of me for an added flourish. What I said after my name is lost in a glorious montage of numerous self-introductions that would continue to drastically change over the next month and a half as I participated in EDGE’s weekly Saturday workshops.
One particularly rainy Saturday, I received a ride home from one of the women in my EDGE cohort. She was a mother as well as a self-published young adult fiction writer, and had the motivation of a malamute leading a team of sled dogs up Mount Everest. As I was leaving her car, she made a comment that struck me and changed my view of who I was within my cohort. “The way you introduce yourself really bugs me. It’s like you discredit your whole experience of who you were before taking on the identity of a writer. Who cares if you are young and unpublished? Work with what you have, and speak proudly of who you are in the present.” I thanked her and stood silently on the side of the road as she drove off. I stayed there for a good minute and let the rain permeate my sweater as I chewed on her words.
I’ve promised myself that someday I’ll walk into a room and simply declare myself like Prince, Ellen, or Queen Latifah. Until then, I will continue to use the lessons I learned in EDGE to further my career and challenge my identity as an artist and human being. I will be the clear bold font I read off my name card on the first day of class.