My tribe

By Caitlin Kelly

I spent yesterday at the annual conference in New York City of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, a 1,400-member group founded in 1947. There were writers there with Pulitzer prizes and best-selling books and HBO series and made-for-TV movies and options and…

A girl could feel mighty small in that crowd!

The New Yorker
The New Yorker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not to mention editors from publications like The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, New Republic and the New Yorker, four of the — arguably — most desirable markets for magazine writers in the U.S. (Only one of whom, from VF, was female.)

Instead, it was a terrific day of fierce hugs and nostalgia and excited shrieks over new books, and books currently being looked at by Major Publishers, and awards and pregnancies and a friend’s daughter accepted to a good (if costly!) college.

English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolat...
English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolates from participating countries in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was Greg, who writes great stuff about nature and the outdoors, and Maryn, whose book Superbug, about MRSA (flesh eating bacteria) is absolutely riveting and terrifying, and Dan, with his new book about endangered wildlife of Vietnam.

In the hallway, I bumped into a woman with a suitcase and recognized Helaine Olen, whose fantastic book about how we’ve all been conned by the financial services industry I gave a rave review a few months ago in The New York Times.

Helaine Olen
Helaine Olen (Photo credit: New America Foundation)

I served on the ASJA board for six years and still volunteer as a trustee of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, which can write a check of up to $4,000 — a grant — to a needy non-fiction writer within a week. (If you can ever spare even $20 for the cause of decent journalism and the freelancers who produce so much of it, I’d be thrilled if you’d donate to WEAF.)

So I know lots of people through that, and have given back some of my time and talents to the industry I’ve been working in since 1978.

I went out for dinner that night with Maryn and three new-to-me women writers, all crazy accomplished and of course the conversation quickly turned to — female serial killers. That’s what happens when you get a bunch of newshounds at the same table; four of us had worked for major dailies and all miss the adrenaline rush of working a Big Story. So we do it now for magazines and books and newspapers and websites.

It was, in the most satisfying and nurturing way, a gathering of the tribe — people who had come from Geneva and Paris and San Diego and Toronto and Atlanta and Minneapolis and Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, all hungry to be in some small, crowded stuffy meeting rooms to talk about what it is we do and how to do it better.

We write. We tell stories. We wake up bursting to share the cool, moving, sad, powerful, holy-shit-can-you-believe-it? richness of the world, all the untold tales that surround us every day, just there, waiting for us to capture, pitch, sell and tell them.

That’s my tribe.

What’s yours?

20 thoughts on “My tribe

  1. I wish it was mine, too. I was given 75.00 for my birthday. I’m using most of it to pay down debt, but I’d like to send 20.00 to this cause. I think that is a fantastic program. Some day….

  2. What a lovely tribe — I can only imagine the spark-filled conversations going around a table of intelligent, successful women. Once I meet pay day again, I’ll be sending some money in for WEAF… seems to be a great cause.

    1. It was a hoot! Two women who had never previously met were comparing their “favorite” female serial killers..of course?! I love the weird, odd, unlikely passions that fuel the writers I know, and how we chase down our stories. One woman at the table, who had just won an award, was worried about how to protect a great story she’s working on from a competing writer…It’s an odd mix of idealism, creativity, hard-headedness.

      It is a great thing to know/meet women like this: we were from NY, Madison, Dallas and Atlanta. I wish we were all here!

  3. Nemesis

    ..”was worried about how to protect a great story she’s working on from a competing writer.”…

    And then the conversation turned to FemaleSerialKillers???

    You Girlies are getting scarier with each passing year!

    There’s no denying it. We SillyBoyz werely clearly lulled into a false sense of security when shoes were the TopicDuJour…

  4. I don’t know if I belong to a tribe or not – artists (painters, printmakers, sculptors, etc.) are a notoriously isolated and hermetic group. However I recently joined a group of book artists, the majority of whom are women, and the defining characteristic is a willingness to share their knowledge and welcome new people. I was warned by a writer from whom I was taking a class that I should not share what I am currently writing about. Some fine artists are suspect too. I have seen instances of “borrowing” after a studio visit by another artist.

    1. It’s true. I am extremely cautious what I share about current projects. Much as I treasure morale and solidarity, not everyone behaves ethically, sad to say. Being creative and artistic does not mean being naive about the value of our skills.

  5. I would say my tribe is the others like myself who live through the online communities for a variety of reasons. Writers, med needs moms, women who find themselves hanging onto the fringe of a life they aren’t sure exists anymore.

      1. Thanks!

        I guess it’s a basic survival instinct…I have to make $$$ and to make $$$, without a salary, I have to hustle really hard. I doubt many people are going to hire me at my age into a well-paid and enjoyable FT job (that might be pleasant!) so I really have to keep re-stitching my parachute on the fly. I am VERY determined (if I am alive and healthy) to retire at 65, so it’s pedal to the metal to get me there, saving as much $ as we can while enjoying life a bit.

        But I am lucky. I really enjoy what I do for work and the psychic rewards are also satisfying — my NYT story today (again!) is 3rd most emailed of the entire paper and 5th most-read. Being a super-competitive person, I love knowing I’ve beaten out every other writer to those stats!

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