During author Aaron Hamburger’s June 4th reading at Third Place Books, he asked someone to stand: Emily Dietrich, his first creative writing teacher. Hamburger, author of two novels and a short story collection, said he had never thought about writing until he landed in Emily’s creative writing club at Detroit Country Day School in the late 1980s.
In September of 1987, Emily was a new teacher with a new graduate degree in English. Her first piece was about to be published in Historic Women of Michigan. She had a single class in pedagogy on her resume, but when Detroit Country Day School called the English department at the University of Michigan and recommended her, Country Day, an elite expensive school, hired Emily.
“Aaron,” she recalls, “wrote naturally, dropping right into whatever we were doing as if it were completely familiar to him. I remember feeling happy to see him–he had a great smile and sparkling eyes–when he came into the room. He joined the creative writing club and his writing appeared in the club’s publication, Spectrum.”
In 1989 Emily got married, the software development company her husband worked for was sold, and they moved to Silicon Valley. “I did not want to live in California.” A decade later they relocated to Washington where they still live. She wrote for SeattleWomen and Seattle’s Child. She ran a creative writing club at Redmond Junior High and Redmond High School when her daughter was a student there. She’s on the board of RASP, the Redmond Association of Spoken Word which promotes literary arts and poetry through open mics, author readings, and writing groups.
Years passed with no contact between Emily and Aaron until a suburban Detroit newspaper interviewed him after the publication of The View from Stalin’s Head in which he mentioned his first creative writing teacher. A distant relative sent Emily the article. Aaron and Emily reconnected on Facebook.
Aaron made room in his Nirvana Is Here book tour schedule to teach a craft workshop for Emily and her writer friends, the Mount Holyoke Club of the Puget Sound Writing Group. “We met at a member’s home in Bellevue and had dinner. Aaron brought a collection of exercises for generating ideas and vivid descriptions. He showed us how to think about characters in a different way. Best of all, his accepting, playful prescence got us talking, sharing and going deeper into the process.”
Emily’s response when I approached her after Aaron’s reading was “I’m not famous like Aaron.” Right. Not many of us are, and Aaron would probably say, ‘I’m not famous like, well, Philip Roth or Herman Wouk.’ But, if you believe the old maxim “A writer is one who writes,” Emily’s track record is proof.
The first thing she ever wrote was a poem–and that’s the genre she connects with most. Right now she’s working on a chapbook of poems she read as part of the Duvall Poetry series last year. She’s also drawn to fiction. When Ms. magazine published her essay, she decided she had “permission to work on a novel.” She completed Holding True, published in 2013 by Booktrope. She pitched a second novel at the 2016 Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, “but then Trump got elected, and I redirected my energy toward activism and resisting.” She’s found time to contribute to co-author a puzzlebook, The Conjurer’s Almanaq and writes Magentic, a blog which, yes, boasts a briliant magenta theme.
Because her husband was disabled in an accident, she is spending a preponderance of time caregiving, allowing her to enjoy books like Where the Crawdads Sing, A MAn Called Ove, There, There, Nine Below Zero, and Crazy Rich Asians.
In fact, she scurried away from Aaron’s reading to get home and reflected later on on her early assocation with Aaron, enlightened by his ficionalized story of homosexual assault (based on his own experience) in Nirvana is Near.
“I had no idea, not the slightest idea, of what Aaron had been through when I met him. I didn’t realize that our creative writing club was a safe place for him as a very recent trauma victim.” She continued,
“Reading Aaron’s novel and the non-fiction he has written about that time in his life has been intense and changed my understanding of those years. I feel so much gratitude and admiration for his work and for his way of being in the world.”