To celebrate our 20th Anniversary in 2023, we’re highlighting 20 stories that have helped shape StoryStudio over the years. Each month of 2023, we’ll be featuring one or two members of our community as they share their story. Whether they came from the very first class that Jill started in 2003 when StoryStudio was just a few folding chairs and a dream, or they’re from the most recent cohort of Novel in a Year students, on their way to publishing a book; these members make StoryStudio what it is.
Below is Rowan’s story.
A Place to Belong
Many times, I’ve wished I was a musician (never understood what pitch is). A dancer (always unsure what to do with my hands) or an actor (can’t cry on cue). Ultimately, I’ve wanted to be a practitioner of an art that didn’t require me to be so constantly alone.
In 2020, my writerly loneliness was magnified. The pandemic shuttered coffee shops, readings were canceled, bookstores became pick-up only. On top of everything else that was terrifying about those early months, that sense of community I’d get from being among writers and readers was inaccessible. And so when I got the message that I’d been given the Doro Boehme Scholarship to attend the Novel in a Year course with Rebecca Makkai, it felt like a window opening.
The first time I went to StoryStudio was for a write-in. I loved that the space felt like an apartment—the creak of the wood floors, the ambient bubbling of a kettle, deep couches, warm lights. Though it attracts talented, accomplished writers, there’s nothing intimidating about the space, and that sense of warmth and community is embodied by Rebecca.
From day one of the course, [Rebecca] made it clear we were not in competition with one another. We were there to be supportive, to take the work seriously but ourselves less so, to learn and write and rewrite and—when necessary—commiserate over just how goddamn hard it is to write a book.
From day one of the course, she made it clear we were not in competition with one another. We were there to be supportive, to take the work seriously but ourselves less so, to learn and write and rewrite and—when necessary—commiserate over just how goddamn hard it is to write a book. The course taught me so many essential lessons on craft. It gave me new ways to see my work. It helped me take a messy stack of manuscript pages and transform it into a novel.
But most importantly, the course made me feel less alone. To this day, I still meet with members of my cohort for a writing group. And as I revised my novel, sent it out into the world, and had it accepted for publication, Rebecca was there to offer encouragement and guidance every step of the way.
My novel is set on a Reno divorce ranch in 1951, and it’s about a sheltered young woman who becomes infatuated with a mysterious fellow guest. Their friendship offers her a new life, but also threatens to pull her under. It’s about loneliness and power and trying to find yourself. Reading it now, I see some of myself in the protagonist—how hungry I felt for connection back in 2020, for a new type of home.
I’m so grateful to StoryStudio for giving me the community I needed, and I’m excited for it to continue giving writers a sense of place and purpose for another 20 years to come.